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Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials and Resources

How to Replace a Sky in Luminar

by Dawn Gilfillan on Nov 1, 2019

Yes, you can replace a sky in Luminar, and it’s actually very simple to do using layers and gradient masks!

Today you’ll learn several keys to replacing a sky in Luminar, including:

  • How replacing a sky can improve a scenic photo
  • Steps to replacing a sky in Luminar
  • The easiest ways to replace a sky in Luminar
  • Where you can learn more about replacing a sky in Luminar

Why Replacing the Sky Can Improve a Scenic Photo

Imagine that you find the perfect location in the perfect light, but the sky is a bit dull. In fact, it’s bringing your whole photo down. We’ve all been there! That’s par for the course with landscape photography

Since you don’t have the power to conjure up a magnificent sunset or stormy skies — if you did, you probably wouldn’t be reading this! — you’ll have to change that sky in the editing process.

I’ll bet you have some other photos in your gallery that have fantastic skies but boring subject matter. Those are the images you’ll want to use to create a new, composite photo that features a great sky and an impressive subject.

But beware: you can’t swap skies in your photos at random. You’ll need to choose a sky that goes with the subject matter of the photograph. And, whatever new sky you choose should have been captured using similar camera settings and lighting. For instance, a night photography image should have a night sky if you want the composite photo to be believable.

Maintaining the same camera settings can be tricky, but returning to the same place on different days with your camera can help you figure it out. Find a scene you like and photograph it. Then, on another day with promising weather conditions, go back and snap the same photo. Make sure you shoot with the same shutter speed, polarizing filter, focal length, lens, etc. that you used for the first photograph.

This technique will end up giving you much more accurate and natural-looking landscape photographs that you can use in editing. 

Although this tutorial focuses on replacing skies in Luminar, composite image editing is a technique you can use for a variety of purposes. Graphic design often calls for creating composite images, so it’s not an editing task confined to landscape photography.

Steps to Replacing a Sky in Luminar

Although Luminar has a sky enhancer filter called AI Sky Enhancer, the results of this filter can be hit or miss, depending on the type of sky you want to change, whether you’re processing a RAW file or small JPEG or how much filter strength you apply.

AI Sky Enhancer works by masking off the parts of the photo that don’t contain sky. In isolating what is not sky in the image, the filter applies its effect — in theory — only to the unmasked sky. This approach can give good results, but if the line between the sky and the land is not clear, the filter will struggle to tell those areas apart.

The only way to really get the sky results you want is to exchange the dull sky in your photo for a better one.

What Should You Consider Before Replacing a Sky in Luminar?

There are a few things you should think about before you decide to replace a sky in Luminar (or any other image editing software).

  • Will a new sky enhance the photography? Or, are you trying to save a mediocre photo by giving it a dramatic sky? Hint: that approach won’t be successful!
  • Do you have a replacement sky that will suit your image? Adding a warm, tropical blue sky to a cold winter shot just won’t look right. Unless you are deliberately aiming for an unmatched look, take your time selecting the right replacement sky for your image.
  • Was your replacement sky captured with the same lighting conditions and around the same time of day as the original photo? If the conditions match, the replacement sky is a good candidate for the composite image you want to make.

How to Replace the Sky in Luminar

1. Choose your photos

Bear in mind what we just mentioned above, and choose your base and replacement photos carefully.

I’m going to use the image below as the base, because the sky appears dull and washed out:

landscape photo with dull sky
Original Photos and Screenshots by Dawn Gilfillan

I’m going to replace the sky with the one in this photo:

beach landscape photo with cloudy, pink and purple sky

2. Open your base photo in Luminar and edit if needed

When you have your base image open in Luminar, you may want to do some photo editing to suit the style of the sky you plan to add. In order to get your images to match perfectly, consider adjusting the white balance and noise reduction or adding filters.

When you’re happy with your base image, open your sky photo. To do this, go to Layers, and click the + button. When the drop-down menu appears, click on Add New Image Layer. Then, select your sky image. 

Layers >> Add New Image Layer in Luminar

The new image will open on top of the base image.

3. Add a gradient mask

To blend the images, add a gradient mask by clicking on the top layer in the Layers panel, next to the Brush icon on the right-hand side. Then, select Gradient Mask:

Gradient Mask option in Luminar

Once you’ve clicked the Gradient Mask button, an instruction will appear in the middle of the photo:

Replacement image with Luminar's "Click & Drag to draw gradient" dialog box overlay

Click and drag the gradient around the screen and then press Enter.

Don’t worry if the transition between your base photo and your sky photo doesn’t look great yet. It will. We’re not done yet! 

At the moment, your images will look something like this:

Rough composite image of original landscape with pink and purple sky

4. Change the blending mode

Go to the Layers Panel again, and click the arrow next to Normal. A drop-down menu containing different Blending Modes will appear:

Layers > Blending Modes in Luminar

Choose the blending mode that best blends your sky image with your base photo. In this case, Multiply worked best for my photo set:

Blended composite of original landscape with pink and purple sky

Finishing Touches

If the blend between sky and landscape is still a bit ragged, use the Brush Tool or Eraser to even things up. I used the Brush Tool set to Erase at 50% opacity and quickly brushed over the edge of the landscape. This removed any sky that showed through from the sky image. 

Refined horizon line of composite image using Luminar Eraser Tool

You can also add preset overlays, or filters to the sky layer. I increased the detail and added a Luminar Look preset at a reduced strength:

Composite image with Luminar preset applied to the sky layer

I then tweaked the sky a bit more with Luminar’s editing tools. Below you can see the before and after split of my sky replacement:

Before and after of original and composite images

That’s it! You’ve replaced a sky in Luminar fairly easily and quickly. Rumor has it that Luminar 4 will contain a built-in sky replacement tool, but until then, you can use the method above.

Easiest Ways to Replace a Sky in Luminar

The tutorial above is probably the easiest method of replacing a sky in Luminar, at least until they release a sky replacement tool.

You can color correct photos, add layer masks, do color grading and create your own presets in Luminar by making filter adjustments to your RAW files, TIFF or JPEGs, and clicking the Save Luminar Look button. 

However, you can’t make a preset that will change the sky in a landscape photograph for you automatically, and you can’t do batch processing on sky replacements.

If you are looking for the best tutorial for replacing a sky in Luminar, check out Skylum’s own on the topic. 

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has helped you learn more about replacing a sky in your landscape photographs in Luminar editing software. But, don’t let it get you down if you don’t manage to nail it on your first attempt. All photography and photo editing is a learning curve, and the more you practice the better you will get.

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