Add a New Sky Behind Trees

How to add a new sky behind trees can be a challenge with Photoshop Elements.

I've had a few requests for how to do it over the years and I knew it would be a challenge. But when Stephen made a request and agreed to let me use his photo for the tutorial I decided to bite the bullet.

Here's a look at the before and after of this tutorial:


Click on the video below to see exactly how it works.

Under the video is an illustrated step-by-step guide showing how to Add A New Sky Behind Trees with Photoshop Elements.

The Step-By-Step Guide

STEP ONE- Build Your Mask.

Let's start by making a mask that we can use to separate the sky from the trees.

This gets pretty involved and I don't explain all of the reasons for each process along the way because I felt that would get too deep and over-complicate the technique.

So I'll just try to be clear on how to get there.

Here is the original photo. As you can see the sky is pretty dull and there are lots of leaves and branches in front of it.

We're going to use the original photo to make our mask from. Let's start by duplicating the Background Layer. To do that press Command-J on a Mac or Control_J on a PC.

Now we have an exact duplicate of the Background Layer in the Layers Panel and it's named Layer 1 by default.

I gave it a more descriptive name by changing it from "Layer 1" to black and white.

Create a Solid Color layer by clicking on the white and blue circle at the top of the Layers Panel. A list will appear. Click on the the top item that's called Solid Color.

The Color Picker appears.

Click inside the Green box and type "255". Make sure that the Red and Blue boxes are set to zero.

Click OK to close the Color Picker and accept the change.

With the Color Fill layer active click on the Blend Mode box at the top and change it from "Normal" to "Multiply" by clicking on it.

Now our image looks green in the Active Image Area.

Merge the Color Fill layer with the Black and White layer by pressing Command-E on a Mac or Control-E on a PC.

Now let's change our black and white layer from green to black and white. Go up to the Enhance menu and choose Adjust Color>Adjust Hue/Saturation... by clicking on it.

The Hue/Saturation dialog box appears.

Click on the box labeled "Master" and from the list that appears choose "Greens" by clicking on it.

Next click and drag the Lightness slider all the way over to the right side where it will read +100. Then click OK to close the box and accept the change.

Let's continue building our mask by using Levels. Go up to the Enhance menu and choose Adjust Lighting>Levels... by clicking on it.

In the Levels dialog box move the black and white sliders toward the center to get as much contrast as you can between the sky and the trees.

When you're done click OK to close the dialog box and accept the change.

Make a Selection around any non-sky area that isn't totally black on the "black and white" layer.

Once the non-sky areas are selected go up to the Edit menu and choose Fill Selection... by clicking on it.

When the Fill dialog box appears choose "Black" from the "Use" field and press OK to close the box and accept the change.

Make a Selection of the entire black and white Layer by pressing Command-A on a Mac or Control-A on a PC.

Once it's selected copy it by pressing Command-C on a Mac or Control-C on a PC.

Now go to the Layers panel and click on the Eye next to the "black and white" Layer to hide its visibility.

STEP TWO- Create A Layer For The Trees.

Make the Background layer active by clicking on it. Duplicate the Background layer by pressing Command-J on a Mac or Control-J on a PC.

New Duplicate layer of the Background layer is named Layer 2 by default.

Add a Layer Mask to the new duplicate layer (Layer 2) by clicking on the "Add a Mask" icon at the top of the Layers panel.

Make the Layer Mask visible in the Active Image Area by holding the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC as you click on the thumbnail of the Layer Mask in the Layers panel.

The Layer Mask is visible in the Active Image Area.

Press Command-C on a Mac or Control-C on a PC to paste the copy we made earlier of the "black and white" layer into the Layer Mask for Layer 2.

Hide the Layer Mask from the Active Image Area by holding the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC as you click on the thumbnail of the Layer Mask for Layer 2.

Deselect by pressing Command-D on a Mac or Control-D on a PC.

Now we're going to invert the Layer Mask for Layer 2 by first making sure that the Layer Mask is active. Click on it to make it active. Next press Command-I on a Mac or Control-I on a PC.

Now the Layer Mask on Layer 2 is hiding the sky and revealing the trees.

STEP THREE- Place Your New Sky.

To add your new sky go up to the File menu and choose Place... by clicking on it.

Navigate to where your sky photo is located on your computer. Click on it to make it active and then click on Place to close the navigation window and place your sky.

When you use the Place command, your photo comes in on a new Layer and it has a bounding box around it.

You can use the eight tiny handles around the bounding box to resize your sky photo if need be. Just click-and-drag on them to do that.

You can also reposition your sky by clicking-and-dragging inside the bounding box.

Once you have have your sky sized and positioned how you want it, click on the green check mark to close the bounding box and accept the changes.

Notice that your sky Layer is a smart object. Whenever you use the Place command the photo you place comes in as a new smart object layer.

You can tell that the layer is a smart object by the little square icon in the bottom-right of the layer.

Little gray icon (circled in red above) indicates that the layer is a smart object.

Smart objects have some editing restrictions associated with them so we're going to convert it to a regular layer.

To do that make sure that the sky layer is active by clicking on it in the Layers panel. Then go up to the Layer menu and choose Simplify Layer by clicking on it.

We need to move the sky layer below the trees layer (Layer 2) in the Layers panel so that the sky appears behind the trees in the Active Image Area.

Go to the Layers panel and click-and-drag the sky layer down until the double horizontal lines appear below Layer 2. Then release the mouse button and the layer will be moved to its new position.

If you zoom in on your image you might see some white halos around the leaves and branches of the trees.

We can get rid of the halos by changing the Blend Mode of the trees layer.

First click on the thumbnail of the trees layer (Layer 2 in my example) to make sure that it's the active layer. Then click on the box at the top of the Layers panel that says "Normal". A list of all of the different Blend Modes will appear.

There are two different Blend Modes that will help eliminate the halos. One is called "Darken" and the other is called "Darker Color". You should try both to see which works best for your photo.

Click on one to change the Blend Mode.

After changing the Blend Mode the halos disappear.

As a result of changing the Blend Mode you might find that some areas of your photo also have an unwanted color shift.

In my example some of the lighter areas of the trees allowed the blue sky to show through in those areas.

You can see in the areas circled in red that the blue from the sky layer is coming through some of the lighter areas on my tree trunks.

Carefully examine your image after changing the Blend Mode to make sure you don't have any unwanted color change.

If you do have areas that have shifted colors you can fix it. To do so make the sky layer active by clicking on it in the Layers panel.

Then add a Layer Mask by clicking on the "Add a Mask" icon at the top of the Layers panel.

Next make the Brush tool is active in the Toolbox by clicking on it. Also make sure that the Foreground Color which is the top big square located at the bottom of the Toolbox is set to black.

The Brush tool is the active tool in the Toolbox and the Foreground Color is set to black.

If the Foreground Color is white instead of black you can change it by clicking on the tiny double-headed curved arrow next to it. When you do that it switches the colors of the Foreground Color and the Background Color.

Also make sure that you have a hard edged brush selected by looking at the Brush Preview down in the Tool Options.

If you don't have a hard-edged brush you can change it by clicking on the Brush Preview box and then click on a hard edge brush from the list that appears.

A hard-edged brush is shown in the Brush Preview box located in the Tool Options.

Resize your Brush cursor if necessary by using the left and right bracket keys on your keyboard. They're the ones located next to the letter "P".

Now click-and-drag to paint over any unwanted color changes.

Once it looks good to you you're done! Here's a look at my before and after results:


That wraps up this tutorial on how to add a new sky behind trees with Photoshop Elements.

I hope you find this helpful.

Until next time, this is Rick saying . . . Take care!

Some of the techniques above were inspired by an article from Diana Day in the now defunct Photoshop Elements Techniques magazine.

Go from New Sky Behind Trees with Photoshop Elements to Home.


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