Faking the Sky with Photoshop

(Originally posted on the Kira DeDecker Photography blog)

I love Photoshop. I know some people snub their noses at the idea of post processing but I personally feel like ever photo needs a finishing touch. It’s essential, especially if you are shooting in RAW format!

My thoughts on retouching and editing is this: it’s the salt and pepper to a well cooked meal – it enhances and adds the finishing touches but doesn’t make it. You can’t cover bad cooking by pouring a lot of salt and pepper on it (that’s just a nice way of saying you can’t polish a turd). I always try to get everything right in camera but sometimes I have to use Photoshop because my best was just…well, not my best or in cases like the one below, things were just out of my control – something all pet photogs understand since our subject are dogs with minds of their own. When that happens I have to do some processing tricks to get the photos where they need to be.

I love this shot. I love the composition of Bella in the corner walking towards the camera and I love the green grass and the pink petals from a nearby tree. But there is one problem with this shot — the background is an ugly unattractive parking lot! Instead of trashing this shot, I imported into Photoshop and did some editing to end up with an image that I love (and that I hope my client will love as well).

(Because it comes up almost every time I post about post processing — I don’t use commercial/bought actions or presets. I’ve tried using them but they’re just not for me. I do, however, use my own actions and presets that I made myself just as a time saver. In general, anything that takes more than two steps I make into an action.)

Here is the completely SOOC (Straight out of Camera) shot. I feel naked right now.

For the RAW edit, I just upped the exposure a bit (+36), lightened the shadows (+10) and color corrected the White Balance.

Next, I import the image from Lightroom into Photoshop as a Smart Object and do my usual workflow that includes: contrast, saturation, brightness and a vignette.

On a new and separate layer I clone out distracting items like the the leash and a few of the dead flowers. I also clean up some of Bella’s eye boogers using the Heal Tool.

Normally, this would be it as far as editing goes, but like I said, I REALLY dislike that parking lot behind Bella.

Now here comes the tricky part. Since I’m working with an ugly parking lot and not a blown out sky, I have to fake it. On a new blank and separate layer, I use a soft brush set to white and paint over where I want to put the sky. If you paint over something you want to keep, you can just erase over it since you are on a new layer (plus, using new layers instead of duplicating the original reduces file bloat)

Now here comes the fun part. Find a nice sky overlay for your photo.

Now technically, you can take you own photos of the sky and impose them or grab one from another photo but I live in metro-Phoenix. No one ever comes to the Valley of the Sun and looks up at the sky and says “what nice fluffy clouds you have”, we mostly just have blue cloudless sky here in the desert. Lots of people have skies that you can buy or get for free. In this case, I used EW Coulture’s free Cloudy Skies pack (found here).

Using the Move tool (shortcut V), I drag and drop the Sky overlay I want and place it in. I put the Sky overlay layer before all my workflow adjustments so it matches the rest of the photo. Next I use a reversed layer mask and and carefully MASKED in the elements I wanted (Never erase from your image unless it’s a new blank layer. You never know when you might need that data back. Masking is your BBF!) I then tweaked with the layer opacity, lowering it to about 62%.

The Sky overlay is where I want, it’s masked in and looks nice and natural but I want the blue in the sky to match the vibrancy of the grass and pink petals. So I make a Selective Color adjustment layer and add more cyan and decrease the magenta and yellows in the blues. Since I don’t want that selective color appling to the entire image, I create a clipping mask to the Sky overlay.

And that’s it! If you need any more tips or advice on post processing, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment. I would be glad to try and help.

Kira DeDecker is an on-location, natural light, lifestyle pet photographer specializing in one-of-a-kind fine art and modern portraits. She works exclusively with pets to create vibrant, quirky and soulful works of art. In addition to her dog photography, she also photographs needy animals pro-bono for non-profit animal organizations.

Kira DeDecker Photography is based in Glendale AZ and serves the Metro Phoenix area (Scottsdale, Peoria, Phoenix, Suncity, Surprise, Goodyear, Avondale and Tempe) and beyond.

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September 26, 2013 - 8:21 pm

Bonita Holmes - thank you thank you thank you :)

November 2, 2013 - 1:04 pm

Beautiful Beasties is Back... | Kira DeDecker Photography Blog - […] Faking the Sky with Photoshop […]

June 1, 2014 - 9:52 pm

Francesco Gallarotti - Good tutorial, but shouldnt’ the sky be blurred given your short DOF?

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