Trust me, I’m a Doctor

Commercial Photography by Brian Rodgers Jr. South Bend, Indiana Commercial Advertising Photographer

As mentioned in the previous tutorial. I decided that the sky in the original HDR image that I processed was just a little too boring. To create some drama and atmosphere, I composited a new sky. Here’s the catch though, I didn’t simply make a selection and swap out skies. That would look too fake. So how do we create realistic looking composite skies? Read on!

I was revisiting some old work when I stumbled upon an image that I wanted to use as my computers background. After looking at it for a while, I thought to myself that it needed something. I was already happy with the image, and had considered it to be a finished piece at one point. However, I just wanted to add a little bit more mood to the image. A simple way to add drama to any scene is to make adjustments to the sky. In the case of “Downtown Bentonville,” I knew that adding a new sky would improve the overall tone and mood of the image.

Where do you get a new sky? No, not Google! That would be a copyright infringement! It’s this simple folks, we all see beautiful skies from time to time. Why not get your camera out, shoot the sky and create archived folders of nothing but skys? Sure, it’s a time investment, but well worth it. You don’t want to see the same sky in every image, so it’s best to create your own library of skies for use at a later time. You never know when those skies will come in handy. I also recommend shooting your own textures to use as overlays in your work. Sure, you could buy them from iStock, but then you will have the same textures that everyone else has. I challenge you to go out, shoot your own textures and create your own libraries.

When adding a sky into a new image, you may want to consider the following. Does the tone of the sky match the image? Does it really make sense in the image to add a new sky? Do the tones in the clouds reflect the overall scene? What about the color? You don’t want a cold looking scene with a really warm sky do you? Maybe you do, but it might look unnatural and fake. Think about the way our sky effects the ground. Imagine the sky as a giant reflector. That sky is most definitely influencing the colors on the ground, it’s reflecting both the qualities of light and color temperature . So it’s pretty important to find a sky that matches the tone of your image, if you want it to look believable.

The first thing you will want to do is open both images, the sky you have chosen for the composite, and the image you are going to composite it into. Drag the new sky into the image you want to add it to. Place the sky in the appropriate location. By default, Photoshop places every layer in at 100%. So you may want to lower the opacity of the layer so you can see what you are doing. Once you have it in place, turn the visibility of the layer off. Next, make a selection of the existing sky. There are multiple ways in Photoshop to make selections, so I won’t go into detail about that. For this particular image, I used “Color Range” found under the “Select” menu. This gave me a pretty good selection. I’m not worried about making a perfect selection, because I can always brush away any unwanted areas of sky. Now with the ants marching, turn on the new sky layer and click on the layer mask icon. Your sky has been added into the scene by using a layer mask. But it looks fake right? Yea, that’s supposed to happen. Read on!

Now lets lets evaluate the situation. You now have an image with a sky layer that has a layer mask attached to it. You’re pretty happy with the selection, but the sky doesn’t look all that convincing. If you were to show the image to someone, they might say that you added it in. Why? Because you simply swapped skies. So how do we make it look more realistic? By using on of Photoshop’s most potent tools Blending Modes! Blending modes change the appearance of a layer. As you change the blending mode, it will change the way the layer interacts with the layers beneath it. Blending Modes are a fundamental application of Photoshop technique. In the case of the sky we just added, changing the blending mode will change the way the sky you just added interacts with the previous sky (layer) underneath it. The best part is that it will create a more realistic effect because it uses the sky you already had, and mixes it with the sky you are adding to it. So the tones blend in very nicely. This transition is even better when you choose a sky that has similar qualities as the existing sky that you are replacing it with. Not only because they will blend together better, but because it will compliment the lighting of the original overall scene. Click on the image of “Downtown Bentonville,” here you will see the original exposure, the retouched HDR composite, and the then the retouched HDR composite with a swapped sky.

In most cases, blending modes like Multiply, Screen, Overlay and Softlight tend to work best. However, I encourage you to experiment with all blend modes because like Forrest Gump says “Ya neva know whatcha gonna get.” So it’s best to keep an open mind when working with blending modes. Other considerations would be adding adjustment layers such as photo filters, curves and levels adjustments to further enhance the sky that you just added. Until next time, ROCK!


Brian Rodgers Jr.

Brian Rodgers Jr. is a commercial advertising photographer based in South Bend Indiana. Brian has a wealth of commercial photography experience photographing everything from commercial portraits, RVs, large commercial vehicles, product and food photography, to multi-million dollar mansions. Furthermore, he has created brand images for national companies and his work has been published in various national and international publications including Photoshop User Magazine, Dentaltown Magazine, Incisal Edge Magazine, and the popular web based show "Photography Tips & Tricks" produced by Kelby Media Group to name a few. Brian’s overall body of work demonstrates a real cultivation of skills behind the lens as well as a wide array of cutting edge post production techniques. He provides his clients with exceptional images and ensures customer satisfaction through his relentless work ethic. Brian is not just a photographer, he is an artist. Retouching his own work allows him to deliver a product that reflects his vision as an artist. And his clients are never disappointed in his abilities to produce consistent, compelling images. Fun Fact: He shot his own portrait