How to Fix a Bad Sky in Adobe Photoshop

Replacing a background in a photo

Tom Green

It has happened to all of us. You photograph a great scene and discover the sky has washed out or is not as vibrant as you remember. You now have two choices: chalk it up to bad luck or replace the sky. In this case, we were impressed with the bands of color on the beach, the water of Lake Superior and the sky. As it turned out the sky in the photo was not exactly what we expected to see.

In this “How To,” we are going to walk you through a simple compositing exercise that replaces the dull sky with another from the photos taken at the same location. Though compositing is traditionally moving a person or object over a new background, in this exercise we do the exact opposite and replace the background. There are two ways of doing this: The Easy Way and the Common Way.

Let’s get started.

Fixing a Bad Sky in Adobe Photoshop

Screenshot of photoshop

Tom Green

Photoshop has contained a Clouds filter for quite a few years. Though it is rather easy to use, it is also, in certain respects, easy to abuse. The abuse part falls into an inability to recognize the sky is on a 3-dimensional plane and that one does not always have to accept what one is handed.

To use the Clouds filter, set the foreground color to blue (eg: #2463A1) and the background color to white. Select the Quick Selection tool and drag across the area to be replaced. When you release the mouse the sky area will be selected.

Select Filter > Render > Clouds and you will see a new sky with clouds. If this isn’t exactly the pattern you are looking for, press Command-F (Mac) or Control-F (PC) and the filter will be reapplied to the selection giving you a different pattern.

Obviously, the sky looks odd because it is flat. To fix that, let’s recognize the sky exists on a 3-D plane and the issue is not the sky. It is the Perspective. With the sky still selected choose Edit > Transform > Perspective. The handles you want to use are the ones in the upper right and left corners. Drag one of those two handles horizontally to the left or right and the clouds will look like they are rolling in as the perspective changes.

Planning to Replace One "Real" Sky With Another


Tom Green

Though the Clouds filter can yield somewhat acceptable results, you simply can’t beat replacing one “real” sky with another “real sky”.

In this example, we were really not happy with the way the sky in the waterfall picture is so washed out. In poking through the photos ​that were taken that day, we found a “sky” that just might work. Thus the plan is simple: Select the sky in the waterfall image and replace it with the sky in the lake image.

Select the Sky to Be Replaced


Tom Green

The first step in the process is to open both the target image and the replacement image.

Open the target image and, using the Quick Selection Tool, drag across the sky to select it. This is the ideal tool for this image because there is a definite color change between the sky and the tree line. If there are patches you have missed you can press the Shift key and click on the missed patches to add them to the selection. If the brush is too large or too small press either the [ or ] keys to increase or decrease the brush size.

To avoid picking up a few stray white pixels along the selection edge, go to the Select menu and choose Select > Modify > Expand Selection. When the dialog box opens enter a value of 2. Click OK and don’t deselect.

Open the replacement image, choose the Rectangular Marquee tool and select an area of the sky. Copy this selection to the clipboard.

Add the Sky to the Target Image in Photoshop


Tom Green

With the “new” sky on the clipboard return to the target image. Instead of simply pasting the image select Edit > Paste Special > Paste Into. The result is the sky get gets pasted into the selection.