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Photoshop Solution: Replacing a White Sky

How to Switch a Bright and Boring Sky with a Dramatic One

by Jim Zuckerman

Before: White Sky
Before: White Sky
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
A wonderful group of people traveled to my home base in Tennessee to take an intensive two day workshop with me recently, and we explored the techniques I use to create many of my images. One of the favorite techniques I demonstrate is the replacement of a white sky.

In the shot of the elephant I photographed in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, for example, the white sky is very distracting. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to cut around all that grass so another sky can be pasted into the background. Photoshop has awesome capabilities, but it can't do that.

After: Dramatic Sky Added
After: Dramatic Sky Added
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
The only solution is to use a layer mask. I pasted a dark, stormy cloud photo over the entire elephant image and then, after making a layer mask (Layer > layer mask > reveal all), I used the gradient tool (a significantly underrated tool) to blend the clouds in such a way that they disappeared from the bottom portion of the image but stayed in the sky. I then used the brush tool to brush away the clouds from the elephant. Layer masks are not available in Elements.

Note that it's crucial to make the lighting in the sky match the bottom portion of the photo. It would look silly to put a blue sky with puffy white clouds in the background. The lighting on the pachyderm was soft and diffused, exactly like you would see from a sky like this. I have a large folder of sky photographs in my photo library just for composites like this.

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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Jim Zuckerman
Photography Instructor: Jim ZuckermanFew people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion in life. I'm one of them, and I feel blessed to have had a love affair with photography since I began taking pictures.

In 1970, I decided to abort my intended career as a doctor in favor of photography and have never regretted it. Photography has enriched my life more than I can tell you. My career has taken me to over 60 countries, and I've seen and photographed wondrous things.

I specialize in wildlife and nature, international travel, and digital effects. In addition, I also shoot nudes, photo- and electron microscopy, children, and other subjects that stimulate my visual or emotional sensibilities.

For 25 years, I shot a medium format camera, specifically the Mamiya RZ 67, for its superior quality. When I would lecture, Id project the large, glass mounted transparencies, and it was really an incredible experience to see the brilliant color saturation and resolution of these slides. However, I went digital in 2004 because the technology finally equaled or surpassed medium format. I now shoot the Canon 1Ds Mark II digital camera with a variety of lenses.

I am the author of 12 books on photography. My work is sold in 30 countries around the world, and my images have appeared on scores of magazine and book covers, calendars, posters, national ads, trade ads, brochures, and corporate promotions.

For many years I've led photography tours to exotic places. These include Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Burma, Greece, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Spain, Morocco, and Peru.

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