Post-Processing » Affinity Photo Tutorials » Affinity Photo Sky Replacement Tutorial

Affinity Photo Sky Replacement Tutorial

It’s hard to predict when it’s the best time to take photos in order to have the perfect sky in your landscape photos. Furthermore, as you usually are on a schedule you can’t wait for the sky to change. Best landscape photos require you to adventure in extreme locations and photograph what the moment offers you. So what can you do when the sky is a dull light blue when you take the pictures but the fluffiest clouds appear just when you’re on the way back or the next day?

Well, you can take your photographs and use Affinity Photo to replace the sky. In this Affinity Photo sky replacement tutorial, we will show you how to do it.

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Affinity Photo provides all the tools you need to replace the sky in a photo. It works with layers and masks, has advanced selection tools, and allows you to control tone, brightness, and clarity. But even if Affinity helps you blend the new sky as if it was there from the beginning, there are some factors you need to consider to create natural-looking results. Landscape photographs should reflect the natural environment truthfully even if this means having less contrast and saturated colors in your pictures.

Conditions for a successful sky replacement

We all know those landscape wallpapers with purple skies and incredible orange autumn foliage. Nature is beautiful and sometimes it provides such scenes. Especially if you’re willing to go outside and take photos at dawn, just after a storm, or whenever the perfect sunset happens. But most of the time photographers use too much editing in order to make their photos unique. Therefore, if you choose to replace the sky in a landscape photo make sure your respect the following conditions.

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Choose images with matching perspectives

You probably have plenty of sky photographs in which you captured amazing sky moments. But not all of them match with the image you want to change. You need to choose a sky photo that has the same perspective as the original photo. For example, the sky may be behind the subject as a vertical wall at the horizon or above the subject. Especially if you use a sky photo with clouds make sure you have the same shooting angle.

Choose images approximately the same sizes

When you combine two images you need the same image quality for both of them. You should use high-resolution images to be able to rescale, crop, or rotate them with ease. Photograph in RAW even when you have just the sky as your subject.

Stay close to the original image colors and tones

The biggest mistake you can make when you replace the sky of a photo is ignoring the original photo’s colors and tones. Yes, you can use Affinity to adjust colors and tones but that natural feeling you want begins with choosing matching images.

For example, in different seasons the sky has different shades of blue and color saturation. If the foreground is a field covered in snow, don’t use a summer sky photo taken on the beach. If the original photo is taken in the middle of the day, don’t use a sunset sky photo. The best results happen when you use pictures taken in the same lighting conditions, maybe in the same location or just minutes away from each other.

sky replacement gone bad
That’s what happens when you mix a photo taken at midday with a sunrise sky. You can’t see the difference between the two photos but you can feel something is wrong.

When you photograph iconic places you should also be aware of the position of the sun relative to your subject. Everyone will notice if the sun rises from the wrong cardinal point. It’s one thing to replace the sky with a similar one having some additional clouds, and another thing to change the geography.

How to replace the sky in Affinity Photo – step by step

Now that you know how to choose the images you want to combine, let’s see what Affinity Photo can do. Open the image you want to change. We’ll use a mountain landscape with an intense blue sky. It’s taken at midday on a November day and the sky lacks any expression.

original image before sky replacement in Affinity Photo
The original image in which we want to replace the sky

Step 1 – Select the foreground of the image in which you replace the sky

The first thing you have to do is select the part of the image that remains unchanged. Choose Selection Brush Tool from the Tools panel. Check Snap to edges to allow Affinity to help you make an accurate selection by detecting the edges. Then set a size for the brush and start brushing over the foreground. You don’t have to be very precise as we’ll refine the selection using Affinity’s Refine option. Even though you don’t have a perfectly straight horizon line, Affinity Photo will usually do a great job.

Select the foreground using Selection Brush Tool
Select the foreground using Selection Brush Tool

So, when you finish selecting the foreground, choose Refine from the tool’s contextual toolbar. Set a size for the brush and brush over the problem areas where your initial selection has errors. For example, you can brush over the edges, foliage, or detailed areas. Affinity will fix the selection. To make sure the selection is correct, zoom in and check. When you’re happy with the selection, set New layer as output and press Apply. Affinity Photo will create a new pixel layer that contains the foreground of the image.

refine tool in Affinity Photo
Selection Brush Tool – Refine Selection option

The Refine selection tool is extremely helpful when you have a foreground with a lot of detail. For example, when trees block a part of the sky. You won’t be able to make a correct selection using just the brush.

Step 2 – Place the image of the sky

Go to File -> Place and select the sky image you want to use. Then click where you want to place it over the original image. Affinity displays guidelines to help you align the images. It also creates a new layer for the sky image.

new sky
Place the new sky image

Step 3 – Order the layers

By now you have three layers: the layer containing the original image, which is invisible; the layer containing the foreground; and the layer containing the sky image. Drag the layer of the sky image under the layer of the foreground. You can see how the new sky will look like but you still have some adjustments to make.

sky replaced
Order layers to have the new sky as background

Step 4 – Position the new sky

Select the layer with the sky image and choose the Move Tool from the Tools panel. This tool allows you to scale and move the layer until you find the position that fits the original image. Only now you can see how the two images fit together. If you don’t like what you see, you can use a different sky image by selecting Replace image from the tool’s contextual toolbar.

You’ll want to zoom out for this step, to see the entire image. Also, enable the Snapping option from Affinity’s main toolbar to see the guidelines that help you align the two images.

position the new sky in affinity photo
Rescale and position the sky image to fit the foreground

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Step 5 – Make photo retouches

Although you chose images that match in tone and brightness, you may still want to make some adjustments. Affinity Photo allows you to apply adjustments to each layer individually. You can fine-tune brightness, contrast, and color to blend the original image and the sky and create the same mood. Make sure both images have the same color palette and lighting conditions. If you need to see the original sky, you can disable all the layers and enable the first one, the layer of the original image.

All Affinity’s adjustments are non-destructive. You can go back to the original image and start over if you want.

the finished sky replacement using Affinity Photo
What you get if you replace the sky in Affinity Photo

Step 6 – Apply effects

You can stop here or not. Now that you’ve replaced the sky you’re free to apply effects and transform your composition into an artwork. Affinity Photo provides lots of filters, effects, and presets you can use. Each of them comes as a new layer. Make sure you place them on top of existing layers to create a consistent look.

extra effects
Apply effects and filters to complete your work. For instance, add a black and white adjustment layer

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Concluding words

The sky is an essential element in landscape photography and often covers a large part of the frame. It can be spectacular and make the main subject of your photos. But it’s a matter of chance, planning, and patience.

Many landscape photographers take pictures of a beautiful sky whenever they see it. They have a diverse library of sky images, which they can use to replace the sky in other less fortunate pictures. Sometimes you just can’t afford to lose a day of shooting because of the weather. So do your best with the scene that you have and learn to make subtle improvements in post-processing. Affinity Photo is a great editor to do that because it gives you control over the smallest details and allows you to create natural-looking photos.

Have you tried sky replacement in Affinity Photo? Which were your reasons for doing that replacement? Or do you feel that sky replacement is sort of cheating? Let us know. As a landscape photographer, you can feel the greatness of nature and understand its ways better than others.

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