Changing the Sky in an Image Using Photoshop Elements

(Photoshop Elements users:

to use some of the techniques in this tutorial, including Layer Masks & Channels, click over to the Graffishop and grab Graffi’s Handy Actions! . This pack is like your Swiss Army Knife for Elements, and will give you the power of Layer Masks and Channels – a lot of additional bits of functionality to power up Elements.)


Sometimesthe image you have to work with doesn’t really fit with the mood of the article or story it’s to accompany.

For example, an article about the evil and brooding Count Oscar, who resides in an old abandoned warehouse on the “other” side of town really doesn’t call for an image like the one below – a bright, sunny cheerful converted warehouse in the redeveloped & renovated part of town. But it’s also the perfect locale for the setting of our story, so we’ll have to do what we can to make this image fit it.

Start with an image you want to darken and make a bit more moody…

To start, the entire image needs to be darkened to make it look like a stormy night – or at least a darker, more brooding type of atmosphere..

Create a new layer and fill it with black. The fastest way to do this is to press [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[N], then press the D key to reset the palette to black & white, then press [Alt]+[Backspace] to fill it with black.

Quick & easy, huh?! Took more time to read it than it would to do it.

Now change the blend mode of this new layer to Soft Light. You can adjust the opacity of it a bit if you feel the need, but it’ll probably look the best just as it is right now:

That sky is entirely too bright, blue & cheerful – not at all the look we need for our dark, sinister cigarette warehouse. It’s got to go….

Make a selection of the sky using the Magic Wand, the Select>Color Range command, a Threshold Adjustment layer, or using one of the channels. I’m using channels because of this really cool technique I got from a DVD by Photoshop Guru Russell Brown.

Choose the Blue channel in your Channels palette and drag it into the “Create New Channel” icon at the bottom ( it looks exactly like the “Create New Layer” icon in the Layers palette) to duplicate it – you don’t want to work on the original blue channel, as this will really mess up your image….

With this new channel active, use the dodge & burn tools to create your mask.

Select the Dodge tool, set the range to Highlights with an exposure of about 50%, and brush away the highlight area – all the sky parts. Then choose the Burn tool with the Range set to Shadows and paint away the darker areas. You will probably need to switch to the midtones exposure a few times to get rid of some of the more stubborn areas.

You should, after some dabbing and brushing, wind up with a channel that looks similar to this:

Now for some clouds:

Still in the Channels palette, create a new channel. Press to reset your foreground & background colors, and choose Filter-Render-Clouds (duh – what else would you use to make clouds…?)

Now the cool part: Hold [Ctrl] and click the channel thumbnail of the clouds you just created to select the luminance of them. This selects the grays of the channel with all the levels of opacity present.

Click the RGB channel at the very top to bring back all colors to your image, click back over to the Layers palette, click the “Create New Layer” icon (or press [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[N]) and, with your clouds selection still active, press [Ctrl]+[V] to paste it in place (yes, you could also just click over to Edit-Paste, but keyboard shortcuts are for the REAL users… !).

Deselect ([Ctrl]+[D], or Select-Deselect) and click back over to the Channels palette again.

Make a selection of the Blue copy channel you dodged & burned earlier by [Ctrl]+Clicking the channel thumbnail. Click Select-Modify-Expand, and choose a value based on the size of your image (this image started out at 1712 x 2288 pixels, so I Contracted it by 3 pixels – for smaller images, you may not need to contract at all….)

Click the RGB channel again to bring back all your colors, then highlight the clouds layer. Click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette to create a mask based on this selection.

The clouds need to have their perspective changed, but you don’t want to transform this mask. To accomplish this, turn OFF the link between the clouds and their layer mask by clicking the little link icon between them.

Now transform the clouds: Press [Ctrl]+[T] to open the Transform tool, right click inside the bounding rectangle and choose Perspective from the menu.

Drag the top corner handles out as far as you need to to get the perspective of the clouds looking right; you may need to zoom out in order to see the whole thing.

Change back to Free Transform by right clicking inside the bounding box and choosing it from the menu; then drag the bottom of the clouds layer up a bit to create the effect of clouds fading away into the distance.

Before Transforming Clouds

After Transforming Clouds

Add a layer style to the clouds layer – a Gradient Overlay (from dark blue to a very light blue, or a black to medium gray) and a Drop Shadow. You could also play around with the Bevel & Emboss styles, with a Shadow Mode of Color Dodge, and try the color red or green or gold…)

Finally, click the Bottom layer (the Background layer) and add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer.

Pull down the Saturation slider until you reduct the amount of color in the background to an acceptable level, and also pull the Lightness slider down a bit.




My final image image came out as dark and forbidding as I had hoped – a far cry from the sunny blue skies I started out with:

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