October 29, 2020

Sky Replacement

The latest update to Adobe Photoshop has introduced a sky replacement tool. It’s excellent tech but is it good photography?

At the start of the week, I was privileged to be asked to talk to the Creative Digital Group of Edinburgh Photographic Society. It’s one of the oldest photography societies in the world, so it felt good that my lecture went down well with the members. Toward the end of the evening, I was asked a question as to how to expose for, what was described as, the Edinburgh sky. The questioner meant how do you cope with those pure white skies. My first response is to change the way you shoot and remove the sky from the composition. However, if you produce photography editing software, then they’d just recommend to go ahead shooting the grey cloud and use sky replacement to get the sky you wanted on the day!

Sky Replacement in Adobe Photoshop

I decided to write on this subject after seeing the latest update to Adobe Photoshop. Version 22.0 or Adobe Photoshop 2021 has included yet more new developments that justify the monthly subscription fee. One of the headline updates is a new Sky Replacement Tool. Let me say before demonstrating how the tool works that it does an exceptionally fantastic job!

Adding a sky

To use the new tool, open a photograph in Photoshop and then go to the Edit menu and take the option Sky Replacement. A new pop-up appears where you can choose from a selection of pre-installed skies or if you have a library of your own skies then you can add these too. The tool, using the default setting, does a brilliant job of identifying where the horizon is as well as any other objects such as trees, buildings or hills. If you don’t like where the horizon is selected, then you can use the Shift Edge and Fade Edge sliders to make slight adjustments.

You can adjust the brightness and temperature of the sky replacement with the next couple of sliders to allow a more natural blend between the sky and foreground. This section of the tool also allows you to select parts of the replacement sky by using the Scale slider and you can click and drag on the main photograph to move the sky around until it gets the result you’re looking for.

The final part of the tool allows you to make small adjustments to the foreground. Finally, you can decide to output the Sky Replacement to either a New Layer or a Duplicate Layer. You can see from the image below the before and after effect of the Sky Replacement tool. I am sure that you’ll agree that the result is pretty natural looking.

Other Tools for Sky Replacement

Adobe is playing catch-up against some of the other editing tools that are available for photographers. Luminar 4 by Skylum has had similar functionality built-in for a couple of versions now but improved in the latest release and does an equally great job in automatically identifying what is and isn’t sky.

Before the Adobe 2021 release, it was possible to replace skies using a much more complicated process of selections and layers. This similar technology is available in editing tools such as Capture One, and ON1 Photo.

But is it cheating?

The million-dollar question and one that is a matter of preference is, does sky replacement count as cheating? As a landscape photographer, I believe that part of the skill and enjoyment of this style of photography is more than clicking a button. We try and identify when the weather is going to enhance the image. We’ll get up at stupidly early hours to be in the right place at the right time.  Finally, we’ll use the armoury of filters and exposure to try and capture the scene we saw before us. For me, that is photography and the reason I do it.

However, let’s remember the history of Adobe. Their first product was Adobe Postscript which was a language used for font printing and was then followed by Illustrator, which was to help graphic designers use the fonts along with graphics. Photoshop was introduced in 1989 and became the flagship product. It’s now become a verb as well as a noun; such is the impact on the publishing industry. It has always targeted graphic artists and photographers are just a fortunate addition to potential users.

As a creative tool, say for advertising, then the Sky Replacement tool is a great addition. I am all for making processes more efficient. Everything I do in my workflow reduces the amount of time I take doing regular tasks. As a graphic artist, the new tool is a superb timesaver, and we’ll see less and less bad examples of poor image editing in magazines.

If your job or interest is to create artwork that looks impressive and produces an end product that you want, Sky Replacement is an excellent addition to the toolbox. On the other hand, if you enjoy the challenge of capturing a scene in the way you saw it, then it’s one of the many features inside of Photoshop that you can ignore.

Listen along

If you don’t feel like spending time reading these blogs, you can now listen to them instead. Head to your usual podcast providers such as iTunes or Google podcasts and search for The Edinburgh Photography Workshop Podcast. If you do like listening, please subscribe to hear it every week and leave a review. That helps others to find the podcast as well.

Give us your feedback

If you’ve got any questions or comments, leave them below. You can sign up for the Edinburgh Photography Workshop monthly newsletter where you’ll get regular updates on exciting things happening in photography and some great tips. Sign up by clicking here.


Kase Filters Logo

Book Now