Replacing a Dim Sky in Photoshop Elements

  1. Starting with a bad air
  2. Taking the best aerial photo
  3. The new sky needs to be adjusted
  4. Add an adjustment layer
  5. Choose a gradient for the mask
  6. Edit gradient
  7. Editing the gradient (continued)
  8. Using a Gradient to Mask an Adjustment Layer
  9. Adjust Hue and Saturation
  10. End result!

Starting with a bad air

I don’t know about you, but I often get pictures where the sky is dull or hazy. This is a great opportunity to use photo editing software to replace the sky in your photo. When you go out on a good day, try to remember to take a few shots of different types of sky just for that purpose. For this tutorial you can use some of my own photos.

In this tutorial I used Photoshop Elements 2.0, although you can do it in Photoshop as well. You can also use other photo editing programs with some minor adjustments.

Right click and save the image below to your computer, then go to the next page.

Taking the best aerial photo

You should also save the above image to your computer.

Open both images in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements and start learning.

a.) First we want to keep the original image, so activate the image t36-badsky.jpg, choose File > Save As and save the copy as newsky.jpg.

2.) Use the Magic Wand tool and click in the sky area of ​​the image. It won’t select the whole sky, but that’s okay. Then go to Select > Similar. This should add the rest of the sky to the selection.

3.) Make sure the layers palette is visible. If not, go to Window > Layers. Double click on the background layer in the layers palette. This will convert the background to a layer and prompt you for the name of the layer. You can call it “People” and click “OK”.

4.) Now the sky has yet to be selected so you can hit the delete key on your keyboard to erase the dull sky.

5.) Go to the image t36-replacementsky.jpg and press Ctrl-A to select all and then Ctrl-C to copy.

6.) Activate the newsky.jpg image and press Ctrl-V to paste.

7.) The sky now covers the people because it is on a new layer above the people. Go to the layers palette and drag the sky layer under the people. You can double click on the text “Layer 1” and name it “Sky”.

The new sky needs to be adjusted

Most of our work is done and we could stop here, but there are some things I don’t like about the image as it is now. First, there are some obvious fringed pixels that don’t go well with the dark hair of the two people on the right. In addition, the sky darkens the image too much and generally just looks fake. Let’s see what we can do to make it better…

Add an adjustment layer

If you’ve ever looked at the sky, you may have noticed that the closer to the horizon the blue color gets lighter, and the farther the sky gets darker from the horizon. Due to the way my sky has been photographed, you will not see this effect in the photo. We will create this effect using an adjustment layer mask.

eight.) In the layers palette, click the “Sky” layer, then click the New Adjustment Layer button (the half-black/half-white circle at the bottom of the Layers palette) and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. When the Hue/Saturation dialog box appears, just click OK without changing any settings.

9.) Note that in the Layers palette, the new adjustment layer has a second thumbnail to the right of the Hue/Saturation thumbnail. This is the adjustment layer mask.

Choose a gradient for the mask

10.) Click directly on the mask thumbnail to activate it. In the Tools panel, select the Gradient Tool (G).

eleven.) In the options bar, select the black and white gradient preset and the linear gradient icon. Mode should be normal, opacity 100%, reverse control unchecked, dither and transparency checked.

Edit gradient

12.) Now click directly on the gradient in the options bar to open the gradient editor. We’re going to make a small change to our flow.

thirteen.) In the gradient editor, double-click the stop handle at the bottom left of the gradient preview window.

Editing the gradient (continued)

14.) In the HSB section of the Color Picker, change the B value to 20% to change the black color to dark gray.

15.) Click the OK button in the Color Picker and the OK button in the Gradient Editor.

Using a Gradient to Mask an Adjustment Layer

sixteen.) Now click at the very top of the sky, press the Shift key and drag straight down. Release the mouse button at the top of the little girl’s head.

17.) The mask thumbnail in the layers palette should now show this gradient fill, although your image will not change.

Adjust Hue and Saturation

Adding a layer mask allows us to apply the adjustment more in some areas and less in others. If the mask is black, the adjustment will not affect the layer at all. Where the mask is white, a 100% adjustment is displayed.

eighteen.) Now double-click on the normal layer thumbnail for the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to open the Hue/Saturation dialog box. Drag the Hue sliders to -20, Saturation to +30, and Brightness to +80 and notice how the sky changes as you slide. See how the lower part of the sky is affected more than the upper part?

nineteen.) With these values, click OK in the Hue/Saturation dialog box.

End result!

Note that there are fewer fringes around the dark hair and the sky looks more realistic. (You can also use this technique to create a very unrealistic “alien” sky effect, but it would be harder to blend in with your original image.)

Now there is one more small adjustment I would make to this image.

twenty.) Click on the People layer and add a “Levels” adjustment layer. In the Levels dialog box, drag the white triangle below the histogram to the left until the input level on the right is 230. This makes the image a little brighter.

That’s it… I’m happy with the new sky and I hope you learned something from this tutorial!

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