How to Use the Photoshop Sky Replacement Tool

by Sep 16, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

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How to Use the Photoshop Sky Replacement Tool

Recently I’ve been working on a new Photoshop Layers book which will be out in late October 2021. One of the examples I’ve included in the book explains how to replace a sky using the new Photoshop Select Sky feature. Then it occurred to me that I should also explain the Photoshop Sky Replacement tool, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. That’s when I decided I would write this tutorial explaining how to use it to add a new sky to an image.

Launching the Photoshop Sky Replacement Tool

To launch the Sky Replacement Tool, first open the image in Photoshop where you want to replace the sky. You can then select “Edit | Sky Replacement…” in the Photoshop menu. This launches the Sky Replacement Tool, Opening the dialog.

When the Sky Replacement dialog opens, Photoshop will automatically select the sky in your image. It then replaces this with a new sky of your choice.

At the top of the dialog, you can see a thumbnail of the replacement sky. If you want to try a different sky, click the thumbnail to display a dropdown of the available replacement skies. These thumbnails are grouped into three sections which are “Blue Skies”, “Spectacular” and “Sunsets”. For the best results, select one of the skies that is consistent with the conditions in your image. In this example, the sky is already replaced by an image from the “Blue Skies” list, but you probably didn’t realise. If instead I had used a sky from the Sunsets list, it wouldn’t be quite so convincing as you can see here.

In addition to the skies that come with Photoshop, you can import your own skies to use with the Sky Replacement Tool.

Importing a Sky to the Sky Replacement Tool

You should be able import a new sky image to the Sky Replacement Tool by clicking on the sky thumbnail to show the dropdown list. Towards the top of this you will see a small cog wheel icon. When you click the icon, it reveals a popup menu where you will find the Import Skies option.

After selecting the Import Skies option, you will see a dialog which you can use to select the skies you want to import. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I’m yet to get this to work for me.

Instead, I’ve found an alternative which allows me to import individual sky images to the Sky Replacement Tool. This is the “Create new sky preset” found at the bottom of the dropdown list.

Clicking the create new sky preset icon opens a dialog where you can select a sky to use in the image. A thumbnail of this then appears in the dropdown list, in the selected section. You will also see the sky added to your image, allowing you to adjust the Sky Replacement controls.

Blending the Sky with the Sky Replacement Controls

When the sky image first shows as the replacement sky, it’s possible the result won’t be very convincing. You can see an example here. Notice how the clouds drop below the horizon and their perspective is wrong.

To correct this problem, you could use the Scale slider. Unfortunately, if replacement sky image is the same size and dimension as the image you’re adding it to (as in this example), the Scale slider reveals the edges of the sky image. Fortunately, we can fix this later once we’ve finished adding the sky as I’ll explain.

The Fade Edge and Shift Edge sliders are used to control the mask Photoshop generated to blend the two images together. But unless you understand masks, the control names don’t mean a lot.

To better understand them, imagine Photoshop has selected everything except the sky in the original image. This means that objects like the pier and lamp all have an edge around them which prevents the replacement sky from covering them. The Shift Edge slider can be used to expand or contract this edge. The effect is to cover more or less of the objects in the image with the replacement sky. Move the Shift Edge slider left and right until you feel it’s making a good selection around the objects.

The other slider is the Fade Edge slider. You can use this to soften or harden the edge around the selection. This helps to blend the replacement sky with the image more naturally. Move it left and right whilst watching for the best result. Sometimes it can help to start by moving the slider to either extreme and then gradually reducing the adjustments.

Adjusting the Sky and Foreground

When you’re satisfied with the blending of the replacement sky, you can adjust the sky and foreground to help them work together. One problem that’s often affected replacement sky software in the past are different lighting conditions in the original and sky replacement images. This can now be addressed using the controls in the “Sky Adjustments” and “Foreground Adjustments” sections of the tool.

Start by setting the Brightness and Temperature settings for the sky to make it match your expectations of the final image. This will need to align reasonably well with the conditions of the image you are adding the sky to.

You can then change the Lighting Adjustment and Colour Adjustment controls to help match the base image conditions with the replacement sky. For most conditions you will probably want to leave the Lighting Mode set to Multiply.

Output Options

Finally, at the bottom of the Sky Replacement dialog there is the Output option. This is where you tell Photoshop how you want it to generate the resulting image. There are two options in this dropdown:

  1. New Layers
  2. Duplicate Layer

If you select Duplicate Layer, Photoshop replaces the sky in the image and then saves the result to a new layer. At that point, there is nothing further you can do to adjust the results.

Personally, I find the New Layers option much better. When you select this, Photoshop will generate several layers into a new Group. These layers contain the replacement sky together with adjustment layers to control the lighting, colour temperature etc. In fact, you will find layers relating to each of the different controls in the Sky Replacement dialog. This allows you to continue tweaking the adjustments.

In addition to the various layers, you have access to the masks generated by Photoshop in the Sky Replacement dialog. You can then refine these further as well as changing layer blending modes.

By deconstructing the components of the sky replacement to these different layers, it provides you with much greater control than you can achieve with the Sky Replacement Tool.

Correcting the Sky Perspective

To share an example of the greater control offered by the New Layers option in the Sky Replacement dialog, let’s correct the perspective of the new sky. Earlier I mentioned the sky didn’t look convincing because we could see clouds dropping below the horizon. We can now easily fix this using the Move Tool in the Photoshop Tools Palette.

Having selected the Move Tool, find the Sky layer in the Sky Replacement Group generated by Photoshop. This then displays a bounding box around the layer in the image. You can then click and drag the edges of the box to resize the sky layer. By selecting the top and bottom of the box and moving them up and down, you can reveal more of the replacement sky, down to the horizon in the sky image. This produces a more convincing replacement as seen here.

Notice the difference between the clouds on the horizon in the image on the left to those on the right. The image on the left is what was generated by the Photoshop Sky Replacement tool. The image on the right shows a more convincing perspective after changing the size of the sky layer using the Move Tool.

Summary of the Photoshop Sky Replacement Tool

The Photoshop Sky Replacement tool is a very useful tool to help you replace the sky in an image. But to create a realistic composite you still need to select a good sky based on the lighting conditions in the image where you are replacing the sky. The tool does offer a level of adjustment for lighting conditions, but these are a little limited.

To achieve the best results, be sure to output the sky replacement to new layers. You then have access to the individual adjustment layers, their masks and blending modes to refine the results further.

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