If the skies in your landscape photography are looking a little flat, try this simple technique to replace a sky using Photoshop effects like Layer Masks and Blend Modes.
Sometimes a beautiful landscape can be let down by a dull sky, at other times a wonderful sky shows up when there’s nothing interesting in the foreground.
It’s rare that the two come together, which is why landscape photographers will often visit the same location time after time.
If you don’t have that luxury, there is another option: while there’s no substitute for getting it right in camera, you can use Photoshop to replace a dull sky.
To combine the images you need to cut out the original sky. But often a successful cut out is only half the battle. No matter how seamless the joins, making it look right can be a challenge.
To help the elements gel, you need to tweak tones and add a touch of uniform noise, then dodge and burn on a separate layer – which is an invaluable skill for working on any type of landscape, be it traditional or composite.
Step by step how to replace a sky in Photoshop Elements
01 Drag the sky
Open your main image and your picture of the new sky in Photoshop Elements. Go to the sky image, then grab the Move tool from the Tools Panel. Click on the image and drag up to the tab of your main image, then down into the image to copy the sky over. Position it over the top half of the scene.
02 Select the land
Go to the Layers Panel. Double-click the background layer. Hit OK. Drag it above the top layer. Grab the Quick Selection tool from the Tools Panel and paint over the land to select it. Go to Select>Refine Edge. Set Feather 0.5, Shift Edge -60 (Contract/Expand in Elements 10).
03 Lasso the tree
Click the Add Layer Mask icon in the Layers Panel. Hold Shift and click the mask thumbnail in the Layers Panel to disable it, then draw a rough selection around the tree with the Lasso tool. Highlight the layer’s image thumbnail. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+J to copy the area to a new layer.
04 Blend the layers
Shift-click the Layer Mask thumbnail to activate it, then highlight the top layer. Click the Blend Mode dropdown in the Layers Panel and choose Darken. Grab the Brush tool, highlight the Layer Mask thumbnail, and zoom in and paint with white to reveal the lighter areas on the tree.
05 Tweak the tones
Highlight the top layer, then click the Create Adjustment Layer icon. Pick Hue/Saturation. Drag Saturation to -11. Choose Yellows from the ‘Master’ dropdown and set Saturation -19. Next add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer, and choose Warming Filter (85), Density 35%.
06 Add image grain
Alt-click the Create New Layer icon. In the New Layer options, set Mode: Overlay. Check the Fill with… box. Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise, set Amount 2 and check Monochromatic. Hit OK. Make another layer in the same way, then grab the Brush tool and dodge and burn as needed.
34 Photoshop effects every photographer must try once
14 photo editing tips and tricks every landscape photographer must know
13 ways famous landscape photographers make money from photography
10 quick landscape photography tips