Add Impact to Landscape Photos with Sky Replacement

Just about any landscape or outdoor scenery photo could use a dynamic cloud-filled sky to enliven the impact. But you have no choice over the sky that’s there when you shoot. In the days of film it was “what you see is what you get” and you were stuck with whatever filled the sky at the time.

sky replacement

Scan of original Kodachrome slide has blown out sky and dull colors.

Take, for example, this photo of Castel Combe in England. It is a scan of the original Kodachrome slide. The day was solid overcast and the sky was blown out to featureless white. This would be the case whether the scene was shot on film or digital. But the original film was daylight balanced and despite what the song says, the colors are dull and muted. It sure doesn’t “make you think all the world’s a sunny day.” The shot has potential but needs help.

Sky Replacement Makes a Big Difference

First the sky. This is not a tutorial on sky replacement. You can easily find an excellent sky replacement tutorial using Photoshop, Lightroom or both. Many techniques are available. Trees present a particular challenge and this tutorial covers it very well.

The sky in this example was added very simply by importing the clouds as a separate Photoshop layer underneath the main image then erasing the white sky to reveal the clouds. The eraser was not at 100 percent in order to keep the sky a bit muted to match the light on the main subject.

Lighting and Reflection Completes the Scene

Now that the sky is brighter than the original blank white it’s time to make the subject match the light. This is done in Lightroom with a few simple adjustments in clarity, vibrance and saturation. The final step was to add a hint of the sky reflected in the water. This was done by selecting the sky, inverting it and placing it over the water. Adjust the opacity so it is just visible and erase those parts that are not over clear water. A bit of cropping yields the final result you see here, a vast improvement over the original Kodachrome transparency.

Castle Combe sky replacement

Castle Combe photo with sky, color adjustments and reflection of sky in the water.

Even the most featureless, dull sky can be salvaged with the right post processing. So shoot on those dreary, overcast days and add an interesting sky in post. If the original is on film use a scanner to bring it into the digital world and give it new life. Like the Paul Simon song says, Kodachrome can “make you think all the world’s a sunny day.” It just takes is a little modern digital post processing.

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