Turn a White/Gray Sky Into a Blue Sky In Photoshop


Sometimes, you may take a photo
of a beautiful subject, but you end up with a boring gray sky. Unfortunately, you cannot control the
weather, but there’s a lot you can do in Photoshop to make a boring gray sky into an amazing
blue sky. In this video, I’m gonna show you several techniques to enhance your skies and
make them blue in Photoshop. Hi, I’m Jesús Ramirez from
the PhotoshopTraining Channel. This Photoshop tutorial is going be packed with information as usual, so make sure that you stick around until the very end, so that you don’t miss any Photoshop
tips and tricks. Also, if this is your first time at the Photoshop Training Channel, then
don’t forget to click on that subscribe and notification buttons. Let’s just get right
to it. This is the image that I’m going to work with.
I was in Milan, Italy recently. I was there for a little over a day, but I got to take
this photo of the Duomo. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day, and this photo would
have been much better if the sky was blue, so that it would contrast better with the
yellows and oranges of the Duomo. In this video, I’m going to show a few techniques
that you can use to make the sky blue in your overcast photos.
The first step is to convert your image into a smart object. We want to work non-destructively,
so I’m just going to right-click and select Convert to Smart Object. A smart object is
simply a container that holds one or more layers and it allows you to apply adjustments,
distortions, filters and transformations non-destructively, which means you can always come back and edit
them. You can tell that the layer is a smart object by looking at this little, tiny icon
here on the bottom right of the layer thumbnail. Now that we have a smart object, there’s one
thing that you can try in your photos. I know that it’s not gonna work for this image, but
maybe it works in your photo, so I wanna show you anyway. I’m gonna go into Filter, Camera
Raw Filter. From the Camera Raw Filter, we can adjust the tonality and color of the image.
We also have this wonderful tab called the HSL Adjustment tab. This tab allows us to
control the hue, saturation and luminance of individual colors with these sliders. Notice
that one of the sliders is titled Blues. That means that we can control the hue, saturation
and luminance of the blues. I’m already in the Luminance slider, so I
can drag the blue slider to the left to try to get some blue back into that sky. In this
image, this is really not going to work. There’s a lotta JPEG compression artifacts in that
photo, which, by the way, I have a tutorial that shows you how to remove JPEG artifacts
from a photo. I’m not gonna do that in this tutorial, but if you’re wondering how to do
that, I’ll place a link down below in the description for that video.
But anyway, this technique is not gonna work in this photo, but it may work in your image.
We might be able to just move it a little bit and try to get more blue in there, but
this is really not gonna work. You could also try adding a little bit of saturation into
the blues and maybe that gives you a better result, but again, in this case, I’m not going
to use the camera raw filter in this step, so I’m just going to press Cancel.
What I’m gonna do instead is create a digital sky, but first, I need to make a selection
out of the sky, and one of the easiest ways of doing that with an image like this that
has so much detail is by using the Channels panel. From here, you will see the red, green
and blue channels that make up the RGB image. These channels are projecting light. When
you mix the light of these three channels, you’ll generate all the images that you see
in Photoshop, and the channels simply tell you that where there’s a lot of white, that’s
a lotta red light, and where there’s black, there is no red light. All three lights together
make white, and the absence of all three lights make black.
But anyway, what you need to do is click on each individual channel and see which of the
channels has more contrast between the foreground and background. In most cases, for projects
like these it will be the blue channel because there’s blue in the sky and there probably
won’t be much blue in the foreground, depending on the photo that you have, of course. In
this case, the blue channel works best, so we’re going to create a channel based selection
out of the blue channel. The next step is to duplicate the channel.
You can duplicate the channel by clicking the channel and dragging it over into the
new channel icon and you’ll get a copy. You don’t have to rename the copy if you don’t
want to. I’m going to leave mine as default. Next, you need to make the sky white and everything
else black. So one of the things that you can do is you can start by using the dodge
and burn tools. The dodge tool allows you to make pixels brighter. Which pixels are
you going to make brighter? In the options bar, you can see this dropdown titled range,
and you can target the shadows, midtones and highlights. In this case, I wanna work with
the highlights, and we’ll use an exposure, this is the intensity, of 50%.
So notice that when I paint in these bright areas, the image gets much, much brighter.
But if I paint on these darker areas, the effect is much more subtle. So this tool allows
you to target specific tonal ranges. I’m going to press Ctrl Z on Windows, Command Z on the
Mac, to undo that change, and I’m just going to paint very loosely on the sky. And it’s
okay if I touch the Duomo. I’m not really gonna make it white, but I’m gonna try to
stay away from it as much as I can, since I don’t wanna lose a lot of those smaller
details. I just wanna make sure that these areas are completely white, like so.
Next, I’m gonna do the opposite. I’m going to select the burn tool. I’m going to select
Shadows. Exposure at 50% is fine. I can increase or decrease the size of my brush by tapping
on the left or right bracket keys on the keyboard. I’m gonna make my brush larger, and I’m just
going to paint here, like so. Just trying to make some of those edge pixels darker.
I don’t need to worry too much about the pixels in the center because what I can do is just
select the lasso tool, and just quickly freehand a very loose selection around these pixels,
like so. And if you make a mistake, you can always come back and make adjustments. You
can hold Shift, and click and drag to add your selection, or you can hold Alt on Windows,
Option on the Mac, and click and drag to subtract. So just make the appropriate selection for
your image, and I guess I might as well select these areas. But anyway, now that I have this
selection active, what I can do is fill with black. Black is currently my background color,
so I can press Ctrl Backspace on Windows, that’s Command Delete on the Mac, to fill
with the background color. Then I can press Ctrl D, Command D on the Mac to deselect.
And we’re gonna use some really powerful feature in Photoshop that allows us to take this channel
and apply it to itself using a blending mode to either enhance the shadows or highlights.
Let me show you how that works. I’m gonna go into Image, Apply Image. Then I can select
what channel I’m using. I’m gonna use the blue copy, and I can select the blending mode.
Currently, the selected blending mode is Screen, and notice what happens here. Let me move
this to the side. I’m gonna uncheck Preview, and you can see that Photoshop is applying
this channel with the screen blending mode onto itself, which makes the image brighter.
So see that? And by the way, here’s a pro tip, you can always press the P key on the
keyboard on any window that has a preview checkbox to enable or disable that checkbox.
But anyway, I’m gonna leave it set to screen. You could always adjust the opacity if you
want to. In this case, I don’t need to, I’m gonna leave it at 100, and I’ll press OK.
Next, I’m gonna do the same thing, but this time I’m going to make the channel darker.
So I’m gonna go into Image, Apply Image, and instead of selecting the screen blending mode,
I’m going to select the multiply blending mode because that makes things darker. By
the way, if you’re not familiar with blending modes, or why these blending modes are working
the way that they are, I have a tutorial that talks about all the blending modes. It’s an
in-depth tutorial. I also have a written article about it. I’ll place a link down below in
the description if you want to learn more about blending modes.
But anyway, so you can select Multiply, or you could also select Color Burn. And you
can actually go down the list and see if any of these darkening blending modes make a better
adjustment for what you’re trying to do, and this case, it looks like the linear burn does
a really good job. See how it just makes everything so much darker? So I’m gonna try that linear
burn. I’ll press OK, and I can… you can do it again. Image, Apply Image, and that
does a really good job. And you can keep applying that over and over again until you get all
the smaller details, or you can go into the brush tool and just make a smaller brush and
make it a little bit harder, so the edges are not too soft. And make sure that you set
black as your foreground color, and you can paint away these smaller details.
Again, you can use the bracket keys on the keyboard to increase or decrease the size
of your brush as you paint. I’m not gonna spend too much time fine tuning the image,
but in your project, spend a little more time, obviously. So we’ll just say that this is
good for now, and I can now make a selection out of the bright pixels in this channel.
I can simply hold Ctrl, Command on the Mac, and click on the channel thumbnail, and that
will load the bright pixels as a selection. I can click on RGB and go back into the layers
panel, and from here, I can create a gradient fill here. And that’s going to create that
gradient, but the fill will not be applied to the Duomo because of the layer mask, obviously.
And what I’m gonna do now is simply select the color that I’m going to use for the fill
by clicking on the gradient editor here. This window will come up, and what you can do is
click on black and white if you’re on an older version of Photoshop. If you’re on the Creative
Cloud, there’s a different method that I’ll show you in a moment. If you’re on an older
version of Photoshop, you can click on this swatch, and then just make this one like an
off blue color. And then this one on the right, double click on it and make it a blue that
is similar to the color of the sky that you want to have. If you’re in a new version of
Photoshop, you’ll have access to this blues folder where you can click on these pre-made
gradients. For example, there’s another one in here that’ll look good for a different
type of day. I think is this one here. Yeah, this one here will work for maybe like an
early morning, or afternoon, or something like that, and you can adjust it accordingly,
of course. The point is that you have all these different
gradients and these groups. Not just blues, but all different kinds. So you can use those
as well. There’s also these cloud gradients that you can use that might help you generate
skies as well. But for what I’m going for in this case, I think that the blues will
work great, and the one that I’m gonna use is the very first one, this one here. And
what I wanna do is drag the blue onto the right side and the lighter color onto the
left side, and I can double click on it and edit it if I need to. I just wanted to show
that it’s just an off-white color. I’ll press OK, and this is our image. I can now press
OK once more, and I can click and drag to adjust my fill.
Now, something very important when you’re doing this is that you don’t wanna make your
sky too dark. You gotta look at the image itself and see the other elements. For example,
you can see a lotta atmospheric perspective here on the back part of the Duomo. So if
I were to make my sky darker, then it wouldn’t look very realistic because this part of the
Duomo is very bright and it has a lotta atmospheric perspective. So be careful with that. I wanna
show you in a moment something that you can do to alleviate that problem, but in most
cases, you just want to adjust these accordingly, so that you don’t necessarily have to change
the elements of the image unless you really have to.
So once again, you can click and drag on the actual gradient fill to determine how much
blue you have, or how much white, and you can increase the scale as well. So maybe in
this case, I’ll increase the scale and do something like this. Maybe even drag it up
a little bit more since we need this area to be brighter. I’ll press OK, and this is
my before and this is after. Now, we are gonna run into some problems in images like this
one that have a lotta small, intricate details. Let me zoom in into this area here on the
left hand side. I’m going to press the Z key on the keyboard to select the zoom tool, and
then I’m going to zoom in. And notice that this area is just completely destroyed by
that mask. So you can see what the original image looks like and you can see the results
with this mask. One way to fix this problem is by clicking
on the blending mode dropdown and simply selecting the multiply blending mode. So that’s multiply
and this is normal, so huge difference. You bring the detail back from the original image.
So make sure that you use the multiply blending mode. I think that it does a really good job
and it gives you great results. Now that you’ve brought back all that detail onto the image,
let me show you other things that you can do to further enhance that photo.
I’m going to double click on the hand tool to fit the image to screen, and you can see
the before and the after. I think that the sky might be a little too dark because notice
that the tower back here just looks way brighter than the sky. So instead of making this darker
or reducing the opacity, which is actually something that will work very well, like you
saw there, I’m gonna try to make the back darker because in some cases you may wanna
have just a little bit of a darker sky. So how do I make this particular tower darker?
Let me show you a really cool technique. First of all, you can create a curves adjustment
layer, then delete the layer mask, so right-click and select Delete Layer Mask. And you already
probably know that you can hold Alt on Windows, Option on the Mac, and drag the the layer
mask to duplicate it onto another layer, but doing so makes it so that we’re affecting
the sky, and we wanna do the opposite. We want to affect the building. So obviously
you can click on the layer mask and click on Invert, and now when you make an adjustment,
it only affects the building, right? But there’s actually a better way of doing
that, and let me first click on this reset icon to rest that, and let me right-click
on that layer mask and select Delete Layer Mask. And the faster way of doing that is
by clicking on the original layer mask, and remember what we wanna do. We want to duplicate
the layer mask and invert it at the same time. To do that, you can hold Alt and Shift, that’s
Option Shift on the Mac, and click and drag that layer mask onto another layer, and it
duplicates it and inverts it at the same time. That’s a really powerful keyboard shortcut
that I recommend that you use. Let me know down in the comments below if you’re familiar
with that keyboard shortcut. But anyway, we have this curves adjustment
layer that is targeting the Duomo, so see when I click and drag, I’m only affecting
the building. So what I’m gonna do is click on this direct selection tool so that I can
hover over the image. You’ll notice that in the curve that point will appear, so that
is where these pixels appear on the image. So I’m gonna click and drag down to make those
darker, but notice that I make the entire image dark as well. I really don’t wanna make
the building itself darker, so I’m gonna click on the building and drag up, so I’m only making
that back part darker. Obviously, I’m affecting the entire image,
but here’s a trick for you. I’m going to create a group, and I’ll just call this group Atmosphere
because I’m going to try to fix the atmosphere with that group, and I’m going to click that
curves adjustment layer into that group. Then I’m gonna collapse it and I’m going to hold
Alt on Windows, Option on the Mac, and click on the layer mask icon to create a black layer
mask, which will hide everything in that group. From the toolbar, I can select a brush tool
and make sure that white is my foreground color. So I can click on this icon here to
swap the foreground and background color, and I can start painting now with white in
the areas where I want to reveal that effect. Let me zoom in so that you get a closer look
at that. See how I’m only painting on that tower now? I’m not affecting the sky, I’m
not affecting the other parts of the building. That’s because we have two layer masks working,
essentially, on one part. We have a layer mask that targets just the building, and then
we have a layer mask that hides everything, and now I’m only selectively painting the
areas where I want this effect to show. So obviously, in your images, spend more time
fine tuning these little details. I’m going to go here fairly quickly, so that you can
see how this effect works, but I think that you’ll get the idea. See how I’m just targeting
that back building, and maybe I could do these towers as well.
The point is, is that the building, the Duomo was a little bright in those areas, so a darker
sky wouldn’t look so realistic. So that’s before and after. So see that by making that
subtle adjustment, the sky no longer looks so off. And I can actually probably go even
darker on that sky. So you will have to spend some time in your own images to get the results
that you’re looking for, but just use these techniques. Again, there’s no right number,
there’s no right value to input on these boxes, it’s all up to your eyes. So go ahead and
give it a try with your images. Now, before we finish, I wanna show you one
last thing. I’m going to select the layer on top by clicking on it, then I’m gonna hold
Shift, and I’m going to click on this layer here at the bottom, and I’m going to right
click and convert it into a smart object. So now I have the before and the after. And
what I’m gonna do is treat this new layer as a single image and go into Filter, Camera
Raw Filter, and from here I can control tonal and color adjustments. So I can start out
by adjusting the shadows, maybe making the shadows brighter to bring in just a little
more detail in those shadows, and making the highlights darker to add detail to the highlights.
And I can increase the texture to make that building pop a little more, and also increase
clarity, which is contrast on edge pixels. And I can increase the vibrance, which adds
saturation to an image in a smart way. It protects already saturated pixels and skin
tones. So I can just add a little bit of vibrance. Then I go can into the detail tab and I can
increase the sharpening. When you increase the sharpening, you really can’t tell what
the effect is applied to, so I recommend going into the masking slider and holding the Alt
key on Windows, that’s the Option key on the Mac, and clicking on that, and if you’re holding
down that keyboard shortcut, the image will turn white. This is a layer mask, basically.
White reveals, black conceals. So as I drag to the right, Photoshop will start finding
edges, and it will hide things that are not edges the further to the right that I go.
So at this point, notice how the sharpening effect is no longer affecting the sky, and
that’s great. I don’t want the sky to be sharpened. And I can continue going further to the right
to just isolate those edges. So maybe something like that. Maybe 90 or so. So I’ll just leave
it at there. So that’s before and after. I know it’s a very subtle effect, specially
with the compression of the video on YouTube, but hopefully you can see at least a subtle
change. And the sharpening is only applied to the edges of the building and not the sky
or anything else. I’m going to right-click and select Fit in
View, and I can now go into the HSL adjustments that we looked at in the beginning of the
tutorial, and I can adjust the blues now. See that? See how I can really start adjusting
the blues now, and I can now adjust the oranges to maybe make the building a little bit more
orange, so that it contrasts better with that blue. I can adjust the luminance of that building,
and, of course, the sky as well. So feel free to adjust these sliders any way that you want
to make your image even more amazing. And you probably already know this by now
if you’ve been watching my tutorials, I always like to add grain to my images to make ’em
look a little more realistic since if I apply any blur or any compositing or anything like
that, I lose that film grain and things don’t look very real. They look very computer generated,
very smooth. So I always like to add just a little bit of grain to make sure that things
don’t look so smooth. I’m going to collapse this smart object, then I’ll click on this
eye icon, and you can see the before and after. I think it looks much better. Let me know
what you think down in the comments below. Also, let me know what you learned. The comments
is the only way that I get to interact with you, so make sure that you leave your thoughts
down below. Also, if this is your first time at the Photoshop Training Channel, don’t forget
to click on that subscribe and notification buttons. Thank you so much for watching. I’ll
talk to you again in the next video.

78 Replies to “Turn a White/Gray Sky Into a Blue Sky In Photoshop”

  1. Thank you Jesus … I got a question… is there a trick to tune “new sky exposure “ with the foreground subject as in this example you showed?
    For example will it works “color match” even for exposure ?

  2. Question – I am a Real Estate Photographer, and I hate when other RE Photographers use sky inserts. It’s probably just a personal preference, but I think when they are used it is super obvious and looks fake, and I prefer for my photos to look realistic. However, would you consider the tool and tips you used here to be a photo insert? Probably in the true sense of the term it’s not, but just curious on your opinion, or the opinions of others.

  3. Excellent video! In your atmospheric group, could you paint directly on your original inverted curves mask to darken the spires of the building?

  4. Inverting while copying a layer mask is new to me. I knew how to copy, but then always had to go to properties and invert. A real time saver.

  5. Great video. Does this method produce halos around the outline of the building and if so what is the best way to remove it. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for another "very exciting tutorial" (still miss that! 😊), Jesùs. Question: At ~15:12, was it necessary to delete the Layer Mask first? Would not the ⌥-⇧-drag operation have replaced the provided Layer Mask? Again, many thanks for all your helpful techniques!

  7. Jesus, your tutorials are great! This seems like a lot of work to get blue skies. It might be interesting if you reviewed Luminar 4 and its sky replacement tool. In most instances it does a terrific job with just one click and you can then do it few touchups if necessary.

  8. Sorry, i like your videos but…

    There is an easier way to do that. Luminar is the name of the AI-supported software. And no expensive Adobe Photoshop subscription necessary. Like 2 clicks and you have replaced the sky with AI power and adjusted the global lighting accordingly. Not as complex as shown in this video with great or perfect results. And Luminar integrates into Photoshop or Lightroom if desired.

    Videos: https://player.vimeo.com/video/367236265 (watch more features on his chanel)

    For you and this "PTC-Channel" operator or subsequent readers. I am not paid to praise software. I do not know the company regarding advertising purposes and am not interested in it. I puliziere this only because the effort shown in the video too big is. And with this software it is faster. Image editing means time, and time is money. Or the Adobe subscription 😉 …sorry for the last.

    PS: Edit for a better Video. Sorry for this ;(

  9. You didn't include a link in the description for how to remove jpeg compression.

    For anyone that wants it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki6r-tEs0eE

  10. I learn so much my mind was hurting…so I will be rewatching (several times) and then doing this to a photo myself a few times to get all this down.

  11. Nice video! I like the techniques I see here, although as an Affinity Photo user, I have double-mask support by default and I don't need to group things to do it >:)
    In this case, I don't think you needed to add any grain to the image. You didn't remove the grain that was already there, so why add more? When you set the blend mode of the sky to Multiply, it puts the grainy texture back into the sky, right? Perhaps I'm missing something here.

  12. Thank you for this very thorough tutorial, JR. I'd remove that bloody crane of course but it doesn't make your work less awesome. Cheers

  13. Couldn’t finish the video. Might have been good info, but the subject was so bad, I couldn’t watch any more. This started with, what looked to me, a crappy phone snapshot, and tried to make a photograph out of it. I’ve struggled with bad skies, but trying save a snapshot has never been a problem

  14. Fantastic tutorial, simple things like this make a powerful impact, I have gained some fantastic knowledge there, thank you. 😍😍

  15. Great as always, but I get a "pink" mask from the channels masking, is there a way to disable that other than 0 opacity of it? And I found I have to delete the "blue copy" channel in order to save as a tiff.

  16. I literally just got back in from a shoot where we got some great shots, but the skies were completely ugly grey, and there waiting for me in my email was my PTC email with the link to this video. How did you know?! Perfect timing! Thanks!

  17. Brilliant. I have done similar techniques to bring back some blue to the sky while masking the subject in my photos (Luminance and Dehaze sliders mostly). It never really occurred to me to use the blue gradients in PS, but I will give them a look. The big take away in this video for me was the apply image using different blend modes to refine the mask (I usually use levels). I constantly learn something new from you. Thank you!

  18. When I cycle through the channels all I get is a red overlay, a green overlay and a blue overlay. Nothing like what you have on your video. I'm using latest 2020. I had the same problem with the 'enhance colours with this insanely useful filter. I've checked all my settings. Help!

  19. In my opinion a blue sky is not appropriate for this image, a dramatic sky would be better.
    Nevertheless some techniques were new for me: Inverting while copying a layer mask, grouping all the layers into a smart object for Camera Raw Filter corrections.
    Good work.
    Question: do you have a tut on creating sun beams from zero?

  20. Just curious if it wouldn't have been easier to just select the building as you did and remove the cloudy sky and place a new image behind the building with a real blue sky with clouds…because now you have a strange sky…but I get it…the purpose is to learn all the steps to modify the image and all the different tools, tricks, shortcuts, and steps. Thanks for the video. I learned a lot.

  21. Typically, when traveling, I get one chance to make a memorable image. Therefore, if I don't like the sky, I'll pick a portion of the scene to shoot that doesn't need sky. Then I still have the memory, as well as something beautifully composed with minimal editing. I may not ever replace a boring sky, but to know how the tools you used work on a real image is valuable.

  22. Lots of ways to mask the building, but an alternative that I think is faster and easier than demonstrated, is to add a Levels adjustment layer above the background layer. Adjust the sliders to maximize contrast between the sky and building: a combination of moving the white point, grey point and black point sliders. Doing this will show some blue patches in the sky that was otherwise hidden. Change the blend mode of the Levels layer to Luminosity to eliminate this. Then use the Magic Wand to select the sky. With my Tolerance of the tool set to 23, it took 3 clicks to select the whole sky.

  23. Your tutorials are always packed with great tips and steps. I hope I sit down and apply this soon! I've taken notes and hope they are complete enough to keep me on point. Thank you so much Jesus!

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