Ways of Transforming the Sky in a Photo

Even now in the 2020s the camera isn’t nearly as good at seeing things as your eye.

On the left is how this building in Copenhagen looked to my eye, and on the right is how I saw the sky. If the building is exposed properly the sky is white; if the sky is exposed properly the building is so dark that no amount of Shadow/Highlight settings will rescue it.

Pull to compare exposures.

Here I selected the white sky area and pasted the blue sky into it using the ‘Paste into’ command. It was a tad trickier than that but didn’t take overly long to rework.

The building and sky now match what was visible to my eye.

Another example, done almost the same way, is this friend’s photo from Peru. In this case the original photo not only had the dreaded white sky, it also had some modern-looking grey blocks running up the right side which I cropped off. I selected the white sky and then pasted in several variations of skies until I hit one that looked right. In both this photo and the one above, the light of the sky didn’t exactly match the light of the building, so I added a warming filter to correct it. Running it through a photo app is another way of making the lighting match up.

For this post I’m also experimenting with the new Block Editor and Image Compare. Image Compare seems to work great with horizontal photos but vertical photos are coming in much larger than I want, and I can’t figure out a way to scale them down. For this vertical image of Ceide Fields in Ireland I am showing the burnt-out highlights of the original sky, and then another shot of it with its new replacement sky. It was easy to select the sky in this image as there was a fairly clean line between the sky and the land.

Original which even the Shadow/Highlight correction couldn’t fix.
Ceide Fields, a pre-historic graveyard in Ireland run through the photo app Snapseed
New sky and some Snapseed app ‘drama’ to blend the two together.

There is another way to fix skies, and that’s to select the bad sky and, in a new layer, use a graduated fill to ‘paint’ in the sky. If there’s a lot of scruffy trees that are hard to select I usually try various blends like ‘Darken’ or ‘Multiply’ which make the trees underneath show up. However, this is one of my earlier slides where the entire sky area was filled with debris. As soon as I added Darken to bring the trees into it the debris showed up as well. Ultimately I had to roughly paint out the debris on the original scan to make the graduated fill blend work. This photo was taken in 1974 and the totem pole no longer exists which makes it worthwhile for me to spend some time to fix it up.

Close-up of before and after debris field.
The debris doesn’t really show up at this size but believe me it’s there.

Lack of a clean edge and trees aren’t the only thing that can cause problems. If I had realized ahead of time how complicated it can get if the sky is reflected in the water I probably would have thought the original slightly bland sky was just fine. I did this image as part of Robin G’s One Four Challenge, where you take one photo and edit it four different ways, and in this post I tried to show some of the step-by-step.

Boats in a Village near Hoi An: Original
Boats in a Village near Hoi An: Storm Effect

One thing I’ve had fun with is layering textures to old (and not so old) photos. Here I’ve taken an old black and white shot of the Parthenon in Greece, and completely covered up the bland sky, along with most of the photo in an attempt to make the photo look even more ancient than it is. And as to using Image Compare in the Block Editor, because this photo is vertical, it has come in about 1/3 larger than I want. Anyone know a quick way to size these images down?

The Parthenon layered with a ‘texture’ in Photoshop.

Using a photo app such as Stackables can also help add character to the burnt-out white sky without any cutting and pasting. It’s also a lot more fun too. Hmmm….

A dying sunflower run through the photo app Stackables

More of the Lens Artists Photo Challenge: From Forgettable to Favourite.

19 responses to “Ways of Transforming the Sky in a Photo

    • Tina tells me there’s a new feature in the Photoshop that makes it easier to swap out skies. I have quite an old version of P/S but it seems logical that they would add that feature at some point as the problem of overexposed skies is a perennial one…

      • I posted on that in my challenge response. I changed two skies there. Edit and then click change skies. Choose you best one or add a new from your own photography. As you can see it works perfectly well.

    • I was most surprised by the first building in Copenhagen – it was the only pair I could find that I had taken two exposures of. At the time I thought that it was too bad I hadn’t picked a nicer building to show off the two different exposures. But the final result shows me why I took a photo of it in the first place – it made such a difference!

  1. Wow. Great analysis. Washed-out sky has been the bane of my photographic existence. Focus on the ground, the sky is washed. Focus on the sky, the ground is dark. It’s a work in progress.

  2. Super job on these Elizabeth – clearly you’ve covered the gamut as far as skies go! One of the new P/S utilities I like is the ability to add your own skies to those included with the package. Makes for a much more natural correction when necessary. Re resizing, if you click on the photo in the block editor, down the right side of the screen there is an area where you can change the size of the photo pretty easily, by %age, by specific size, or by using thumbnail or other sizes, and any combination of these options.

    • Thanks so much Tina. I’ve been so frustrated by the Block Editor I’ve barely used it. I never noticed that the side changed so that’s a big boost to my resizing efforts, at least for ordinary photos. However, with ‘Image Compare’ it turns out that my only options are ‘side by side’ and ‘below and above’. There is a space for additional CSS classes but I think I’ll save that for another day! I’m still using Photoshop CSS 5 so do not have all the more advanced (and sometimes overwhelming) options out there…

      • You’re way ahead of me Elizabeth – haven’t even tried “compare” yet. Haven’t spoken to a single blogger who doesn’t dislike the new editor😡

      • ‘Image Compare’ is the ONLY feature that caught my eye in the new editor, and only for my art and garden blog where there’s a good reason to have ‘before and after’ images. I suspect I will keep using the ‘classic’ editor in my travel blog – it’s way easier just to focus on the images and writing…

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