Photoshop Elements sky fixes: there are many different methods. Some work best on images with a completely blown out sky, others are better for skies that have the slightest bit of blue already.
And it’s a good thing Photoshop Elements gives us so many options for improving skies. Lackluster or even pure white skies are very common in photography. Cameras can’t expose properly for bright skies and darker foregrounds together. They can expose for one or the other, and it’s better to choose your subject over the sky when setting exposure.
We you have an image whose sky just doesn’t reflect the deep color that you remember, these are the methods you can use to improve it.
Photoshop Elements Sky Fix #1: Cloud Filter
This method works equally well on skies that are completely blown and skies that are too pale.
- Use the Quick Selection tool to select the sky in your image. The screen shot below illustrates the Quick Selection tool from Elements 14 along with the Refine Selection mask so that you can easily see the area I selected.
- Add a new Layer (Layer Menu > New > Layer).
- Add a Layer Mask to this Layer (Layer Menu > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection).
- Click on the layer thumbnail (see below screenshot of final Layers Panel) to activate it for editing and apply the Clouds filter (Filter > Render > Clouds). At this point, you have a black and white sky.
- To add blue to the sky, we’ll use a Gradient Map adjustment layer. This layer “maps” to tones. On our B&W clouds, the darkest tone is black and the lightest is white. We’ll use the Gradient Map to make our darkest tone blue instead of black. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map and name the new layer “Blue Sky.”
- Double click on the Gradient Bar that appears on your Adjustments panel for this new layer.
- The gradient editor will open. Double click the black color stop to bring up the color picker.
- Click on the blue of your choice. Hit Ok twice and you now have a completely blue & white image.
- With the Blue Sky layer still selected, create a clipping mask to force the blue edit to change only the clouds. (Layer > Create Clipping Mask). You can see the clipped layer in the Layers Panel screen shot below, with the arrow next to Blue Sky pointing down to Clouds to confirm that it’s clipped.
- If you like the results, you can stop here. Or, you can tweak the opacity of the Blue Sky or Clouds layers. You can also adjust the size and placement of the clouds. To do that, you need to first unlink the Clouds pixels from their Layer Mask. Click on the link next to the Clouds mask to separate them.
- Click on the Clouds thumbnail to activate the pixels for editing and type Command/Control T to go into Free Transform mode. You can change the size of the clouds by clicking and dragging the corner sizing boxes. Or, you can move the clouds by clicking and dragging inside the Free Transform box.
Photoshop Elements Sky Fix #2: Insert a Photo or Texture/Overlay
This method is great for replacing the sky in your photo when it’s completely blown out. You can apply the following steps to a sky overlay that you’ve downloaded from the internet (just google them – you’ll find tons!). You can also apply this method to one of your own photos of a beautiful blue sky. It’s similar to Fix #1, except that we’ll use another image for the sky rather than creating clouds and blueness from scratch.
Refer to the screenshots above for illustrations of this method.
- With the image whose sky needs to be replaced open, go to File > Place and navigate to the photo or overlay file that you want to use.
- This new file will be in Free Transform mode. Press the Green check mark to place the file. We will change the size and location later.
- Turn this new layer off by clicking the eyeball on the left side in the Layers Panel.
- Select your Background layer and use the Quick Selection tool to select the blown out sky.
- Click on the new sky layer you added to activate it for editing. Add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection) and turn the layer back on by clicking the eyeball.
- Click the chain link between this mask and the sky pixels to separate them. Click on the sky pixels and type command/control T to take them into Free Transform mode. You can now change the size and the location of the new sky to suit you image.
- Adjust the opacity of this layer. You might also play with the Blend Modes to see if you can improve the appearance of the sky.
- One important note about this method. Make sure the the “mood” or “weather” of the sky matches the type of light in your image. You don’t want to add a stormy or purplish sky to an obviously sun-lit scene. If the sky doesn’t seem to match, you can adjust the color of the sky using the Hue slider on a Hue/Saturation layer. Or use a Levels adjustment layer to change the white balance of the rest of the image. For instance, in the image below, you can see that the sky overlay I applied is stormy colored. In the After image, I cooled the white balance of the rest of the image to make it feel less like a warm & sunny day. I still don’t love it, however. The shadows on the rocks and faces are much harsher than they’d be on a cloudy day. Not to mention the fact that there would probably be fog on the mountains. So, use this as an example of what to beware of when using skies that don’t belong to the image.
Photoshop Elements Sky Fix #3: Use Targeted Hue/Saturation
This method is best for photos that have a light blue sky already. It won’t work unless the sky has pixels in it (completely blown out skies have no pixel data). And the benefit of this method is that you can deepen the blue in the skies without needing to mask out the clouds.
- Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation).
- Select Blues from the channel drop-down menu and increase saturation to taste. If you have blues in your image other than in the sky (clothing, eyes, etc.), this layer will saturate them as well. You can mask them out of your Hue/Saturation layer if the color pop doesn’t look good on areas other than the sky.
These Photoshop Elements sky fixes are just a few of many approaches to improving skies. Remember that the goal isn’t just to add a blue sky. The goal is too add a sky that blends naturally with the rest of your photo. Keep that in mind and you should get great results!