When it comes to taking photos (or trying to top up your tan) the weather inevitably will let you down, even when you’re shooting in an exotic holiday destination. This can be especially annoying if you’re trying to capture white sands, bright blue seas and clear blue skies.
But thanks to one of our favourite Photoshop tricks, we can easily replace a sky! First we’ll select our start image’s drab overcast sky and use the Photoshop selection tools to replace it with a more brochure-like graduated blue. On its own, the Photoshop Magic Wand tool can select most of the picture’s original sky, even if it contains a mixture of greyscale clouds and patches of blue.
However, the Magic Wand won’t be up to the challenge of including delicate details, like our straw parasol’s fine, pointy leaves. Fortunately the Magic Wand belongs to a team of selection tools that have the combined ability to tackle just about any selection challenge.
Below we’ll show you how to use the Selection Brush to add or subtract from the Magic Wand’s initial selection to include the parasol, beach and sea, then turn the selection into a Layer Mask, and then coax back missing details, like delicate palm tree fronds.
We’ll also show you how to use the Gradient tool to create a clear blue sky from scratch, and even add a couple of clouds to add points of interest and a sense of depth to the scene.
All you’ll need for this Photoshop tutorial is Photoshop Elements 9 or higher and about 20 minutes to spare!
Step 1: Start selecting
Open your original image. In the Layers palette, double-click on the ‘Background’ thumbnail to unlock it; it will be renamed ‘Layer 0’. Grab the Magic Wand tool from the Tools palette and, in the Options bar, set the Tolerance to 41 and tick Contiguous. Click on the sky. The ‘marching ants’ selection marquee will appear. Hold Shift and keep clicking to add more sky.
Step 2: Modify your selection
To remove bits of the parasol’s top edge, grab the Selection Brush from the Tools palette and tick the Subtract From Selection icon in the Options bar. Choose a round brush in the Brush preset picker with a Size of 45 and Hardness of 85%. Spray on the edge of the parasol to remove it; if you keep Shift pressed as you click, you can spray a straight line between two points and modify the selection more quickly.
Step 3: Make a mask
Go to Select>RefineEdge. Pop Smooth to 22 to remove jagged selection edges. Set Feather to 1.0 and click OK. Choose Select>Inverse from the main drop-down menu. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette (see page 43 if using Elements 8 or earlier). The selection turns into a black and white mask that turns the sky 100% transparent while keeping the parasol, sea and beach 100% solid.
Step 4: Sample sky colour
Click the ‘Layer 0’ thumbnail to target it. Grab the Eyedropper tool and click on a remaining patch of blue sky hiding between the lower leaves of the parasol. The foreground colour will turn light blue. Click on the background colour swatch. In the Colour Picker, set R to 35, G to 65 and B to 110. Click OK. You’ll now have a light-blue foreground and a darker-blue background.
Step 5: Draw a sky
Click the Create New Layer icon. Drag ‘Layer 1’ below ‘Layer 0’. Grab the Gradient tool, select the Gradient Editor, then Foreground to Background, then the Linear Gradient icon. On ‘Layer 1’, draw a gradient upwards from the horizon to create a graduated sky. Any patches of original sky clinging to the parasol’s fronds become the same colour as the gradient.
Step 6: Reveal delicate details
Grab the Brush tool. Choose a soft-edged brush with a Size of 200. Set Opacity to 20%. Click on the Layer Mask. Set the foreground colour to white. Spray over the leaves at the bottom of the parasol to reveal more delicate details. Copy-and-paste your new cloud.
Use a Lighten Blending Mode to add it to the scene. Duplicate the layer and use Image>Rotate>FlipLayerHorizontal to create another cloud.
Top Photoshop tip
When removing bits of the parasol’s top edge from the Magic Wand’s initial selection in Step 2, you may end up removing parts of the sky from the selection too. To add bits of sky to the selection, click on the Add To Selection icon in the Options bar. You can use the Options bar’s Add To and Subtract From modes to fine-tune the selection marquee until only the sky is selected. By pressing the Alt key you can toggle between the Add To and Subtract From modes with ease!