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I am frequently asked by people learning how to use Photoshop, how do you replace the sky in an image? I tend to get this question a lot from real estate agents. Hmm, I wonder why? So, here we have this image here and we have got this blown out sky at the top. We want to replace that with a better-looking sky. I have got a better-looking sky right under here under the top layer. Let's go ahead and turn that top layer off and you will see there's the sky that we want to use. What we need to do is figure out a way to hide the sky in this top layer but maintain all that tree detail there on the horizon line or the tree line there.
But here's the thing. I don't want to have to paint out a mask. I don't want to have to sit there and paint every little leaf detail. I don't want to have to use complex selection tools. I want Photoshop to do the work for me. So, how are we going to go about this? Well, it turns out, once again, Photoshop has a secret layer mask built into every single layer. We just need to tap into it. Before we get too much further though, what we want to do is duplicate this Original Sky layer and have it as a backup. You will see why later on. A quick, easy way to duplicate a layer is you use the keyboard shortcut Command+J or Ctrl+J, and that pops it up onto its own duplicate layer.
We are going to go ahead and turn off the top layer and target that middle, Original Sky layer to start working on it. To reveal or uncover that secret layer mask, we just double-click on the layer thumbnail, the layer we want to edit, and this brings up the Layer Style dialog box where we can play with the Blend If sliders. Now, the default for the Blend If sliders is blend if the pixels are gray, a range of dark to white. What we want to do is change that slider from Gray by clicking on it and choosing Blue, because the sky is primarily blue.
That black-to-white slider turns into a black-to-blue slider. And what I am going to do is move this slider to the right and start dragging it left and you will see that all the blue pixels on that layer instantly start disappearing. I am going to go ahead and just slide it over to about 220 here and click OK. I am going to turn off the bottom layer so you can see what happened here. We literally punched a hole on the Original Sky layer, wherever there were light blue pixels. Now, you can see that it did create a problem here, where there were some blue pixels in the water, and those went transparent. And we will fix that in a moment.
Let's go back and double-click on the Original Sky layer thumbnail again and you will see that these sliders are nondestructive. You can go back and fine-tune them and tweak them further anytime you want. I am going to keep dragging that to the left a little bit to get rid of some of the extra blue halo. And then, if I want to create a soft transition between masked and unmasked, I am going to hold down the Option or Alt key and split those sliders, so I get a nice blend between the mask there. I don't want such a hard edge. So, I am going to split it between say 195 and 215 for this particular image. And I am getting some pretty good results. Let's go ahead and click OK. We will turn on the bottom layer again, and you can see there is my new composite.
But here's the problem. I need to fix the missing pixels in the water. I don't want to see the sky of the New Sky layer or the image underneath it through that hole. So, to resolve that, we are going to turn on that Original backup copy we made in the very beginning. We duplicated that layer, go ahead and turn that on. Well, now it looks like we have gone backwards and undone our work. All we need to do is punch a hole through this top layer to reveal what we fixed underneath it. So, I don't need to get all that complicated. You can see the water has already been fixed because I have just duplicated the original layer and put it on top of everything.
What we want to do is make a selection of the part that we corrected with that Blend If slider. So, we will go ahead and get our Marquee tool by pressing the letter M. I'm going to go ahead and drag out a selection of the area that we fixed here. And at the bottom of the Layers panel is the Add Layer Mask button. If you start with a selection, that selection will get converted into the layer mask for that particular layer. Let's go ahead and do a Fit to Window, Command+0 or Ctrl+0. And you can see I have got the opposite of what I wanted. It's revealing the old sky and showing the bad water. What I want to do is get the opposite of that, so I just want to simply invert that layer mask.
So, I have got the layer mask selected. The Invert command is Command+I or Ctrl+I. And I have just reversed that layer mask and so now I am seeing the good sky at the very top here. I have fixed the water issue and I have got a much better looking image, all by using a traditional layer mask in conjunction with that secret hidden layer mask built into every single layer. And again, to get there you simply double-click on the layer thumbnail to bring up the Blend If sliders. It's your secret weapon when doing some pretty interesting compositing effects with Photoshop.
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