Many photo editing tools now offer a feature for automated replacement of the sky in an image. I initially had very little interest in this tool but I eventually decided to experiment with it. I have, at times, played a few tricks with the sky in an image to make it more dramatic but seldom as extreme as replacing the entire sky. And when I have tried to replace the entire sky in Photoshop, my result were comical at best. So, I decided to play around with this feature for my amusement.
There is actually quite a lot of debate about this tool. Many are very opposed to it and see it as deceitful and an affront to legitimate photography. Others see it as artistic technique to create an image. I am kind of in the middle on this. If I can make a beautiful picture to use as artwork, I don’t really see a problem with it. I would never attempt to claim that it wasn’t modified in this way. When you get down to it, no photo is pure and unedited. Just the act of selecting the lens, aperture, shutter speed, and lighting dramatically affects the look of the image and people don’t seem to be up in arms about that. So, decide for yourself.
When deciding what to edit, my first thought was of some photos that I took at Caprock Canyon State Park in 2018. I really enjoyed the colorful earthy cliffs, but it was a clear blue sky day and I thought my pictures suffered for that. So I grabbed one of those images and threw it into Photoshop and started playing.
In Photoshop you can chose from white puffy daytime clouds, high wispy clouds, dramatic stormy clouds, sunsets, and sunrises among the built-in skies. This image is clearly a sunny daytime image and so would really only look natural with sunny daytime clouds. So I selected one of those skies and adjusted the brightness and how it faded into the original sky and below is my result after playing around for about two minutes.
For me to do this manually would have been an hour of work and it would have looked like crap. The automatic masking in Photoshop worked quite well with this image and the sky blends in nicely in my opinion. If I had never seen this image, I would probably not suspect the sky replacement unless I really studied it. In hindsight, I might have reversed the clouds so that the shadow directions more closely match the shadows on the rocks, but I figured this out later and didn’t bother rebuilding this after I had already flattened and exported it.
Next I thought about pictures of downtown Austin. Unfortunately most of my downtown photos feature reflective water and it becomes apparent that the sky has been faked, I know there are blending techniques that can make this work a bit, but that is beyond my current Photoshop skill level and sounds a lot like too much work to me. But I did have an old picture of the state capital building at sunrise on a cloudless morning.
I opened this in Photoshop and selected a colorful sunrise sky. The light direction was initially opposite to that on the building so I reversed it. I also did a bit of work making the sky colors go with the landscape.
I don’t know if the above photo would fool you. I think that the side-lighting on the building may not quite go with the darker more colorful clouds above. I am not sure about that, what do you think?
And lastly there is The Window, which is a nice place in Big Bend National Park to see a sunset. Every sunset I have seen there has been cloudless and dusty. And while that made for a nice color gradient, I would like to have seen a more dramatic sunset sky behind The Window. See the image below of a sunset at The Window on a mostly cloudless evening.
After about two or three minutes in Photoshop I had the below sunset through The Window.
So, that is my very basic experimentation with sky replacement in Photoshop. I am sure that a more skilled photo editor could have done a better job, but I think the results were OK. Perhaps in the future when I see a beautiful sky but no real landscape to put under it, I can just take a photo of the sky and add that in to another photo later. I will be open about this if I do it.
What do you think about all of this?