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How to Replace the Sky in a Photo in Affinity Photo

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Mother Nature can create stunning environments, placed on the most ideal of backdrops. But let's face it, a lot of the time we end up stuck with a gorgeous landscape right below a bland blue or gray sky. 

What do we say to the drab skies of nature? Not today! In this Affinity Photo tutorial, we are going to be learning all about how to replace skies, and we'll look at just how much changing out a sky can affect the overall mood of a photo.

I will be covering all the basics of replacing a sky in Affinity Photo, whether you want to add some clouds, incorporate color, or do a full-blown background swap. 

Follow along with us over on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube Channel:

What You'll Need

To complete this project, we are using the following resources:

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Add Clouds to a Sky

First, let's look at the quickest way to change out a sky, which is to add clouds! This method will work best for shots where the sky is just a little too flat and could use some detail. In this example, we will be adding a bit of a twist to our clouds. But the technique is the same, whether you want a cloudy blue sky photo effect or a straight-up twister. 

Step 1

Start by dragging and dropping the Strange Stormy Sky stock image onto the canvas, over our original beach image. Crop the image to add a bit more room for the cloudy sky. 

place base image

Step 2

Make sure the horizon line of each photo matches up reasonably closely. You can temporarily bring down the Opacity of the storm clouds if needed to line everything up. 

match horizon lines

Step 3

Next, add a Layer Mask to the storm clouds. Then, with a large, soft, round Brush, mask out the bottom half of the cloud image.

As both photos have a grey hue to them, they will blend beautifully with each other. With this method, I suggest choosing a sky that is similar in tone to the original image if you'd like to save some time on blending. 

mask sky

Step 4

Finish blending the two images by adjusting the color, brightness, and contrast of both the clouds and the original image if needed.

Here, I darkened and upped the contrast of both the base image and clouds using a Brightness/Contrast layer, while also desaturating the base image using a black and white gradient map adjustment layer. 

I then committed to the "storm of the century" vibe by adding both green and blue hues to the image with a Color Balance and S curve Curves layer. 

Brightness/Contrast Settings 

  • Brightness: -38%
  • Contrast: 19%

Gradient Map Settings 

  • Black to White 
  • Opacity: 47%

Color Balance Settings 

  • Red: -33%
  • Green: 51%
  • Blue: 59%

Curves Settings 

final layers

2. How to Create a Sunset Photo Effect

Next, I am going to amp it up a notch by creating a substantially more dynamic sky mixed with a reflective surface.

Step 1

First, let's crop our beach image to increase the sky, and I'll opt for less land, so we have an equal mix of sky, water, and earth. 

place image

Step 2

Now, I am going to drop in my sky replacement. Once again, just like in the previous image, line up the horizons! 

match horizon lines

Step 3

Add a Layer Mask just as we did with the last sky, only this time we are going to be a bit more precise with our masking.

I am still going to use a soft brush, but it's much smaller. I am blending the horizon line almost seamlessly with the new sky. 

mask out sky

Step 4

Duplicate the sky image, delete the layer mask, and set the layer to Overlay. Bring down the layer Opacity to 50%. 

Next, add a new Layer Mask to the sky, masking out all but the top quarter of the water. 

overlay sky

Step 5

Now, repeat that same step, only this time setting the layer to Soft Light.

Again, delete and then add a new Layer Mask to the duplicated sky. Mask out any area of the sky that is touching the land or the frothy white parts of the water. 

soft light sky

Step 6

Let's finish this beautiful beach day off by bringing the stark blue of the sky into both the water and land using a Color Balance layer.  

Color Balance Settings

  • Red: -16%
  • Blue: 53%
color balance

3. How to Extract a Mountain Range 

When quick blending and layer mode magic won't do the trick on their own, you may have to remove one sky altogether to place the other. Compositing is also the ideal solution if you are going for something more stylistic, surreal, or fantasy inspired! 

Step 1

As with the last image, we want there to be a bit more sky than before, so crop the canvas to give us more vertical space. 

place landscape

Step 2 

Now, let's extract the sky of the original image. The best results would come from masking out the sky by hand using just a simple Brush and Layer Mask combo. However, use your preferred method for extraction! For a quick extract job, I like to rely on the Refine Mask tool.

Use the Flood Select Tool to create a quick selection and mask of the sky.

flood select and mask

Step 3

Then, clicking on the mask, Right Click > Refine Mask to refine and smooth the mask out. 

refine mask
refine mask results

Step 4

You can use the Select > Grow/Shrink function to get rid of any pesky unwanted edges as well, if needed. Set the Radius to -1 px and then mask out the selection. 

This is an excellent method to use when your image will be more of a backdrop, as opposed to the main focus, or you need to mock something up quickly. Otherwise, zoom in real close and mask that bad boy out by hand! 

Go ahead and place the new sky behind the mountain range for now as well. 

final layers

4. How to Create Sunrise Lighting Effects

Next up, let's lay down our highlights. You will likely do the bulk of your highlights on layers set to Screen, but you can also play with other layer modes like color dodge, soft light, or overlay. The Curves layer is also a great tool to use for creating or enhancing highlights!

Step 1

Create a new layer, set to Screen, and paint some ambient light focused on the horizon line.

Keep the brush very large with a low Flow rate so you can build up the color slowly. Color pick a color from the new sky—in my case, pale yellow and orange colors.

add screen light

Step 2

Repeat this step on a layer clipped inside your landscape to help connect and blend the two images.

The lighting on this layer will be more focused if you have a rising sun or any bright light source as I do.

ad inner screen light

Step 3

Repeat the above step behind the mountainscape as well.

Every landscape will be different, and every sky a different time of day! If you are unsure how you should paint in your lighting, look up some references of a similar environment to get a better idea!

add backdrop screen light

5. How to Create Shadow Effects

For shadows, I recommend the use of layers set to Multiply, Soft Light, and the use of Brightness/Contrast and Curves adjustment layers. 

Step 1

Let's start with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer clipped into the mountains to darken everything and lower their contrast, as shaded areas will usually have less contrast than lit areas.

Brightness/Contrast Settings

  • Brightness: -84%
  • Contrast: -42%
darken mountains

Step 2

Next, go in and mask out all the areas where the light source would be hitting.

Use the original lighting to guide you—and keep in mind that you may be able to skip this step if the light in your image is not as intense as it is in this particular image!

mask shadows

Step 3

You can also paint in shadows using just a brush on a layer set to Multiply. I like to set the layer Opacity to 50%, but it depends on how deep you want your shadows to be.

When painting shadows, avoid using black as shadows are hardly ever flat black. Instead, use a darker, desaturated version of the color you are painting on. For instance, I could use dark brown on these mountains.

Blue is also an excellent color to choose in this particular scene. Blue and orange are contrast colors, so they pair very well together. 

add deeper shadows

Step 4

Now, one of my best friends when it comes to compositing landscapes is the layer Blend Options.

blend options

Here you can tell a layer how much it should show up on light or dark areas. I don't want these shadows to cover and darken the highlights of the image beneath, so I can drag the point on the right-hand curve to control the range of light.

bring down curve point

The further I pull, the less it will show on the lighter areas of the image beneath. You can further refine this by adding more points to the curve and adjusting them. 

add second curve point

You can also use this tool to pinpoint highlights or color. It's a tool best learned by just playing with it and seeing what it can do!

final layers

6. How to Create a Sunset Color Grade

Finally, it always helps to add a few adjustment layers over top everything to tie it all together. 

Step 1

First, let's add an S curve for some added contrast, along with bringing up the blues and reds in the shadows.

Curves Settings

curves results

Step 2

Next, create a masked Color Balance adjustment layer adding blue to the outer edges of the image and one to bring more oranges into the innermost area of the image. 

Color Balance Settings

  • Red: -25%
  • Green: -20%
  • Blue: 22%
outer color balance

Step 3

Finally, create a second masked Color Balance adjustment layer, bringing more yellows and reds into the innermost area of the image. 

Color Balance Settings

  • Red: 23%
  • Green: -28%
  • Blue: -77%
inner color balance

And There You Have It!

While sometimes adding in a few fluffy white clouds will do just the trick, don't be afraid to try changing up the whole mood of a photo by switching from a bright blue sky to a set of ominous clouds rolling in. Or create an entirely new alien atmosphere full of stars and planets. Every photo has a story to tell, and you can change the whole narrative just by choosing one sky over another! The sky is not the limit after all!

So, as always, keep experimenting with different techniques and practicing, and don't forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!

final result

Looking to learn more? Why not check out the following photo manipulation tutorials:

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