How to Use the Photoshop Sky Replacement Tool

by Mar 15, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Use the Photoshop Sky Replacement Feature

This tutorial looks at how to use the Photoshop Sky Replacement feature. Along the way, you will discover special tweaks you can use to help you replace the sky in an image. We will also look at some of the common questions people ask such as:

  1. Does Photoshop have sky overlays?
  2. Why is the Photoshop Sky Replacement command disabled in my menu?
  3. How can I change to a different sky?
  4. Can you use your own skies in the Photoshop Sky Replacement dialog?

But let’s start with the biggest question of all, which is “how do I use the Sky Replacement feature in Photoshop”.

How Do I Use the Photoshop Sky Replacement Feature?

Here’s a quick summary of how to use the Photoshop Sky Replacement feature:

  1. First open the image where you want to replace the sky.
  2. Click the Edit menu at the top of the Photoshop interface.
  3. From the Edit menu select the “Sky Replacement…” option. This will display the Sky Replacement dialog.
  4. In the dialog, select the new sky from the available sky overlays in the dropdown.
  5. Use the controls in the dialog to blend the replacement sky into the image.
  6. Click the OK button to apply the change to the image.

Whilst these steps may sound simple, there’s a lot more you can do to improve your result. Let’s look at an example where we replace a sky using these steps.

Example image showing the sky replaced in Photoshop

In this example, the image on the left shows the original scene. The sky may look blown out, but it isn’t. That’s white cloud you can see on the horizon. The image on the right then shows what happens when we replace the sky using the Photoshop Sky Replacement command.

You can do this in the Photoshop Edit menu by selecting “Sky Replacement…”. This will open the Sky Replacement dialog where you can select a different sky to use and refine the results. The rest of this tutorial will explain how.

The new sky you see in the second image is one of the free sky overlays that comes with Photoshop. It doesn’t look very convincing, does it? Let’s look at a few simple ways we can improve the result.

Choose a Better Sky

One reason the replacement sky doesn’t look quite right in the photo is that the blue is too strong. An easy way to fix this is to pick a different sky to use.

Question: Does Photoshop have Sky Overlays?

Answer: Yes, Photoshop has several Sky Overlays, which are found in the Sky Replacement dialog under the “Sky” dropdown. The sky overlays are organised into the categories of “Blue Skies”, “Spectacular”, and “Sunset”.

You can see the Sky dropdown being used in the following screenshot. When clicked, it reveals the different sky categories.

Selecting a new replacement sky in the Sky Replacement dialog

The different sky overlays are displayed as thumbnails in the dropdown, and you can change the size of the thumbnail using the slider at the bottom. To select the replacement sky to use, click the thumbnail in the list. You will then see it appear as a preview.

When selecting a new sky to use, not all skies will create a believable scene. It really depends on the colours and lighting in your existing image. Try selecting different skies to see the result they produce and don’t assume something won’t work. Some of the result may surprise you as in the following example.

Two examples of a replacement sky in Photoshop

The original image was taken during the day where a lot of the sky was blue, except on the horizon. Despite this, the blue replacement sky doesn’t work very well. Surprisingly, it’s the sunset sky overlay that produces a more credible result. The only significant problem is that the shadows are in the wrong direction although this isn’t immediately obvious.

The reason that different skies can work well, is down to the blending features in the Replacement Sky dialog; but will get to these shortly. First, we need to deal with a common problem.

Why is the Sky Replacement Disabled?

A common problem that many people run into is that the Sky Replacement feature is disabled in their Edit menu.

Question: Why is the Sky Replacement feature disabled in Photoshop?

Answer: You must have an image layer selected to use this. If you don’t, you can’t use the Sky Replacement command and Photoshop disables it.

Let’s look at an example of the Layers Window in Photoshop.

Curves adjustment layer selected in the Photoshop layers window

Here, you can see the image has two layers. First there is the background layer, which contains the pixels of the image. Then above this is a layer called “Curves 1”. This is a Curves adjustment layer used to adjust the image layer.

Notice that the Curves layer is selected in the Layers Window. We know this because it’s in a slightly lighter grey colour. When we have an adjustment layer selected like this, the Sky Replacement feature isn’t available. If you selected the Edit menu in Photoshop, you would find the Sky Replacement option is disabled.

Improving the Sky Blending

There are several other things you can try to improve the blending of the replacement sky with the original image.

  • Adding more skies to experiment with.
  • Reposition the sky.
  • Adjust the foreground.
  • Change the Sky Opacity.

Let’s look at these in a little more detail.

Adding More Skies

Whilst the Photoshop Sky Replacement feature provides a selection of skies to use, you may have others that you think would be better. These could be from your personal photo archive or that you’ve purchased from a third party.

Question: Can I add new skies to use with the Photoshop Sky Replacement?

Answer: Yes, you can add new sky images. You can even select more free skies from within the Sky Replacement dialog.

There are two ways to add new skies to the Sky Replacement dialog. The first method is by clicking the small plus icon found at the bottom of the Sky dropdown. You can see this indicated below.

Icon to add new skies to the Photoshop sky replacement dialog

To do this, open the Sky Replacement dialog and click the Sky dropdown at the top. Now look to the bottom of the dropdown list and you’ll see the small icon showing a + inside the square. Click this to open a browser window where you can select the new sky overlays or images.

If you don’t have any sky images of your own that you can use, there are other free skies that you can add. This again is done in the Sky Replacement dialog. When you click the Sky dropdown list, you will see a small cog icon which you can see indicated in the screenshot below.

Getting more free skies for the Photoshop Sky Replacement

Click the cog icon to display a small menu where you can choose the option to “Get More Skies”. This reveals a submenu where you can import existing images and Presets, as well as “Download Free Skies…”. Choosing the “Download Free Skies…” option transfers you to the Adobe site where you can select and download more. You can also use the menu option “Create New Sky Group…” to help organise your skies.

Reposition the Sky

Another option that can often improve the results when using the Replacement Sky feature, is to reposition the sky. You may find that the default position of the sky doesn’t look realistic when applied to an image.

Additionally, many of the skies that are included with Photoshop have small amounts of detail on the horizon. Sometimes these can be seen when they are merged with your image so do check carefully. When you see these appear in the image, try repositioning the sky to remove them.

You can reposition a sky when using the Sky Replacement dialog with the Move Tool. It’s also possible to reposition a sky afterwards but we will come to that shortly.

When you have the Sky Replacement dialog open, you will see four icons down the upper left side. The top icon shows a crossed arrow as indicated below.

Using the Move Tool to reposition the replacement sky

When you have this crossed arrow selected, you can click and drag the sky to reposition it on the image. Something else that you may find helps is the Scale slider further down the dialog. This will increase or reduce the scale of the new sky in the image.

Adjusting the Foreground

Another common reason a replacement sky will look false is that the colour of the sky doesn’t match the foreground. To improve the consistency between the sky and foreground, we have the “Foreground Adjustments” section of the dialog. You can see this indicated below.

Foreground Adjustments in the Sky Replacement dialog

Here, it’s worth trying the two lighting modes. I’ve personally found that the Multiply mode works better with darker images and skies, whilst the Screen mode works better with lighter ones.

You can also use the other three sliders to increase or reduce the amount of adjustment. We won’t go into what they’re doing here as it will overcomplicate the article. It’s best to experiment with these on your own image.

Changing the Sky Opacity

The final tip to mention is changing the sky Opacity. You can do after the replacement sky has been added to the image.

The best way to change the sky Opacity is to have the new sky applied as a separate layer. You can do this by changing the “Output” option at the bottom of the Sky Replacement dialog as indicated below.

Selecting the output option for the replacement sky

The “Output To” dropdown contains two options. These are “New Layers” and “Duplicate Layer”. The Duplicate Layer option produces a copy of the original image layer but with the new sky applied to it. Whilst you can still reduce the Opacity of this duplicate layer, there is a better option.

Choosing the “New Layers” option in the dropdown will produce the replacement sky in a group of separate layers. These separate layers will have masks attached and this allows you to continue to edit the sky. You can see an example in the screenshot below.

Replacement Sky layers in the Photoshop Layers Window

When you select the “Sky Replacement” layer in the group, you can change it’s opacity in the Layers Window.

The other benefit of choosing the new layers output option is that you retain the ability to change settings like the Foreground Colour and Edge Lighting. If you look closely at the group, each of the layers there relates to a section of the Sky Replacement dialog. Now you can continue refining the adjustments without needing to go through the process of using the Sky Replacement feature again.

Photoshop Sky Replacement Video

To help you better understand the Photoshop Sky Replacement feature and the layers it produces, I’ve recorded a short video.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel

You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

To make the most of the Photoshop Sky Replacement feature, you need to be confident using Layers and Masks. If you are unsure about how to use these tools, this Layers Tutorial may help.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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