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Banish Boring Skies

By Diana Day  ·  Issue: September/October 2012 (V9N5)

Don’t let a dull, gray day ruin your shot. Learn how to replace the sky even when trees and other foreground elements make getting a good selection tricky.


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40 Replies to Banish Boring Skies:

  1. Denise

    September 3, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Thank you for this great, easy-to-follow tutorial! I recently took a trip to Chicago and was disappointed by how overcast the weather was that day, but I’ve already been able to “tweak” some of those photos with this method!

  2. Lee

    September 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Marvelous tutorial! I plan to try this procedure in my professional work in the future. Thanks so much.

  3. Lourdes

    September 3, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I truly enjoyed this tutorial. Had a bit of difficulty on Step 4 but it was interesting figuring it out. The end result was beautiful. I definitely plan to use this technique on many of my “boring skies” pictures. Thanks so much!!!

  4. James

    September 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Incredible tut, Diane, thank you.

    This one will get lots of use.


  5. Cindy

    September 4, 2012 at 11:46 am

    This does NOT work for me any of the 3 times that I have tried this. The unsightly halos remain even after changing the blend mode, and trying different images. I was really hoping that this was going to fix some of the dull skies that I have in some of my pictures. Really disappointed.

  6. Janice

    September 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I really enjoyed this tutorial. It works so well with washed out skies
    Thank you :)

  7. Richard

    September 16, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Nice tutorial & works great! Thanks for posting.

  8. Richard

    September 16, 2012 at 3:39 am

    I meant to add this to the previous comment. The section that changes grayscale to black & white worked well although there were still quite a few gray pixels remaining. In an effort to eliminate them, I pushed the sliders further to the point they were overlapping and which of course prevented me from pushing them even further. This eliminated a lot of the remaining gray pixels but created another problem that didn’t become evident until I was finished. When I finished the final section, I enlarged to 100% & noticed that there were quite a few “free floating” leaves and small branches that were not connected to the tree. I was able to clean most of this up by going back to the mask in the section where the new sky was beneath the foreground and brushing it away. All in all, this has been the best tutorial I’ve found for adding new sky.

  9. Barry

    September 18, 2012 at 3:37 am

    Thank you Diana for the best tutorial on replacing skies I have ever found. I practiced on your downloaded images and then worked on my own. I think it’s important not to push the Levels sliders too far or you will get those floating leaves and branches. This has been a great learning exercise

  10. Diana

    September 18, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Thanks, everyone for your comments. It is possible to make corrections to the mask by painting with white or black on the mask. As with most techniques, the quality of the photo to begin with does have some impact on the success of the result with this technique. It’s not a perfect solution, but the best one I’ve come across yet. I’m glad it has worked out for most of you.


  11. Max

    September 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    trouble with step 9, file>place, do I click on the location of the original image? get same washed out sky photo :-( no blue skiy

  12. Daniel S

    October 2, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This will be agreat help to fixing the washed out sky in many of my carribean cruise pictures. Downloaded the supporting pics and followed the article/tutorial and voila>pictureperfect result as in the article. Thanks for sharing. Here in SC at this time of the year we have wonderful blue sky’s and on cloudy days nice puffy white clouds. Now need to start a sky picture file and get out and take some pictures.

  13. Peter

    October 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I have followed this article’s instructions on a variety of photos, and up until Step 11 it proceeds just as Diana says it will. When it comes time to darken the blending mode of the layer mask to eliminate the white halo, however, I get a lot of greenish ghosting in all but the areas of very high contrast (it does eliminate the halo). I have tried to be more gentle in my Levels adjustment to not bring the sliders too close together, but still have the problem. Any suggestions?

    • Diana

      October 14, 2012 at 2:01 am

      Without seeing your photo, it would be hard to diagnose. If you would like me to look at it, I may be able to offer some advice. Send me a personal message at and we’ll make arrangements.


      • Neil

        October 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        I’m wondering if the greenish ghosting problem mentioned by Peter on 3 Oct 2012 was ever solved? I have the same problem when selecting Darken as a blending mode. Thanks.

  14. Peter

    October 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks Diana, but I am at a loss as to how to send you a message via elements village. I have two photos that I’d love to send you to illustrate the trouble I am having with the green ghosting. Is there a direct email address that I can use for you?


    • Diana

      October 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      I would rather not post my email address here in public. Here’s how to send me a private message on Elements Village. Go to Elements Village and log in. From the menu, click on Search. In the first entry box, under Search Forums, type Diana, then click Go. That will give a list of all threads I have posted in. Open the first thread and find my post. Click on my name beside my avatar and from the dropdown, click Send a Private Message to Diana. In the message, give me your email address and I’ll respond to you with my email address so you can send me the PSD files (including your layers) of the photos you’re having trouble with. You may have to compress them and send each one in a separate email as layered files can be quite large. If the file is over 25MB, my email won’t deliver.


    • Diana

      October 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Neil, Unfortunately Peter did not follow up and contact me to send me his file, so I was unable to trouble-shoot his issue. If you would follow the instructions below to send me a personal message on Elements Village (or if you feel comfortable doing so, give me your email address here) I will contact you with my email address so you can send me your file to to check out.


      • Diana

        October 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

        Neil, I guess the way these posts fall, the instructions to personal message me on EV, is above rather than below.


  15. Koen

    November 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Very very good explanation and very useful. Selection tools don’t work, neither do erasers.
    It looks like the method described in the books by Mark Galer to ‘transplant hair’ (Adobe Photoshop Elements, Maximum Performance). Making a mask there is done a bit different.
    To avoid problems mentioned by some it may help to zoom in heavily on the little branches and leaves of the left tree (or something alike in your own photo) while adapting levels (step 4) and take care not to make these small things disappear. I did not even need to use the darkening blend mode.


    • Diana

      November 8, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Thanks for your kind remarks and the tip, Koen. I’m glad this technique worked well for you.


  16. Howard

    December 5, 2012 at 11:24 am


    I performed your technique using your photos, but I used Photoshop instead of Elements. I assume the sky is not a smart object as when I right clicked on its level, the command “convert to smart object” was available. Everything went as you described. I decided to use the brush tool to go over the landscape, just in case, with the color black, and mistakenly went too far into the sky and made it white above the trees. However, I cannot find a way to repaint the white area with a white brush to replace the blue sky. I pressed the alt key expecting a circle with a minus sign to appear, but I got an eyedropper. I changed the foreground to white, but it would not affect the photo. Can you tell me what I am doing wrong?

    • Diana

      December 6, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      Hello Howard,

      When you use the Place command in Elements, or Photoshop, to bring another photo into your project image, it does come in as a smart object. You can tell by the small icon in the corner of the layer (see screenshot below). It actually doesn’t matter… you can leave it as a smart object as long as you don’t need to erase or delete part of the smart object layer. It doesn’t prevent you from adding the layer mask and painting out the visibility of part of the layer.

      When you used the brush tool to go over the landscape, were you painting on the mask? If so, you should be able to change the foreground color to white and paint over any part of the sky layer to restore its visibility. Make sure you click on the mask on the sky layer before painting with Black (and White if you need to restore part of what you painted out).

      I followed the tutorial in CS5 and it works exactly the same as it does in Photoshop Elements.


      • Howard

        December 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

        This is really a mystery! I redid your process, except I used PS6 and used the hue/saturation layer and level layer and combined them using merge visible to produce the black and white layer, before copying it. As you described, when I place the sky layer, it is a smart object. I did not change this (in fact, I don’t know how to yet). I then added a layer mask to the sky layer and with the brush tool set to black, made a white X in the sky. I then changed the foreground to white using the tool icon for that, clicked the mask again and selected the brush tool again. I then tried to paint over the X. But nothing happened. I cannot restore the white X to the blue of the sky, yet I can use a black foreground to make more white Xs.

        I would like to send a screen shot of what I did, but I don’t see how. I looked at the Elements Village forum, and your profile, but I don’t see how to do it there either.

      • Diana

        December 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm

        Hi Howard,

        It sounds like you you performed the Hue/Sat adjustment on a separate layer than you did the Levels adjustment, and then merged them, whereas I performed both on the same layer. I don’t know if that would make a difference or not. You could try doing the steps exactly as written and see if you get a different result.

        Also make sure you have the correct Brush tool. There are four tools nested in the Brush tool space. Press B on your keyboard to move to the Brush tool, and then right click on the Brush tool icon to see all the tools in that set. You need to select the first Brush in the set, and make sure the brush opacity is 100% and Mode is Normal.

        Sorry I can’t be more help. Sometimes it’s just hard to troubleshoot some things without being able to see the user’s workflow.


  17. Mike

    January 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I have just tried this technique(just new to Elements) and my final image has a new sky but my foreground is still black; can you help.

    • Diana

      January 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Mike,
      It would be hard to troubleshoot your issue without seeing your layers. Could you make a screenshot of your image in the workspace with the layers panel & layers showing. Save it, then upload it to Then copy the URL and paste it in a reply here. If you don’t have a screenshot app, just press the PrtScn key then go to the menu in Elements: File>New>Image From Clipboard. When it loads, save it to your desktop in .JPG format, then uplolad it to Pixentral. I’ll take a look at it and see if I can tell what’s wrong,


  18. Carroll

    January 30, 2013 at 7:13 am

    This is an excellent tutorial. I did have one issue though. I am adding sky over a barn and some trees. The trees and everything look great except the roof line of the barn being very straight doesn’t look natural. It looks like it was pasted on the sky. I am sure there is a way to blend or soften the roof line to blend it. thank you for your clear easy to follow tutorial.

    PS: PSE 9 would not “place” the file unless it was open as a tiff and not stored as a cr2.

    • Diana

      January 30, 2013 at 6:17 pm

      Thanks, Carroll, for your comments. You might try creating a blank layer above your image with the new sky, zoom in on the barn roof, then run the Blur tool along the edge of your barn roof to blend it in. Make sure Sample All Layers is checked. I use this method quite often when I’m replacing a background behind an extracted subject and it works quite well. The strength of the Blur tool would depend on the resolution of the image, but I usually start out at about 10%. One nice thing about doing it on a blank layer, you aren’t affecting the actual image, and you can lower the opacity when you’re done, if it’s a little too blurred.


  19. Mike

    June 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    i followed all the steps and all i got was the same photo i started with :(

    • Diana

      June 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Hi Mike,
      There is no way I could tell you what went wrong with your process without looking over your shoulder to see your workflow. You must have missed a step somewhere. If you haven’t tried it with my example photo, download that and try the steps with that photo. The tutorial shows screenshots of what the image and the layers should look like all along the way. If you follow along until you get to a step where your image and/or layers look different, that will at least tell you where you may have gone wrong. If you gave me more of a clue at which step you went off track, I might be able to give you some advice. Good luck.

  20. Sharon

    July 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I really enjoyed your tutorial and plan to use it next time I need to replace boring skies! Thank you so much!

    • Diana

      July 27, 2013 at 12:44 am

      Thanks for your comment, Sharon. I’m happy to see readers are still enjoying this older tutorial and finding it useful. :-)

  21. Dale

    October 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I have been playing with this tutorial and have mastered the 11 steps, but step 12 is causing me to scrape the image. Not going to give up, I will master it. Everything was explained well, just step 12. I enjoyed going thru it.

  22. Gordon

    August 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I have a photograph with a clear blue sky which I would like to change to a sky with clouds. ( I have plenty of such clouds to use)

    In the photograph there is a large white cathedral above the background and protruding significantly into the blue sky.

    I am using PSE 12. When I try to use this technique (desaturation etc) it is not clear how to select the blue sky without also selecting the large Church. Please advise

  23. Stephen

    December 7, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Hi Diana,
    I’ve upgraded to Elements 13 and the last bit doesn’t seem to work any more. That is the picture has a cast of the replaced sky all over it.
    Which layer should I now try and paint over and with which colour ?
    Spelling is because I am in the UK !!!!

    • Diana

      December 7, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Hi Stephen,

      I’ll have to get that tutorial out and try it in PSE13 to see if I can see how it’s behaving with the upgrade. I’ll get back with you on it.


    • Diana

      December 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Stephen, I followed the sky replacement tutorial again in Photoshop Elements 13. I didn’t find much difference at all using the downloaded sample files above. If you are finding the replacement sky is causing a color cast over parts of the image, refer to Step 12 in the tutorial and add a layer mask to the sky layer (which should be White), and then get the Brush tool (shortcut: press B on the keyboard) and then paint with Black foreground color over the image any place you see the color cast, whether it be the yellow flowers, the tree foliage, or the foliage way back in the background. But do make sure to avoid the areas where the blue sky shows through the trees and foliage. Hope this helps.

      Diana D.

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