Canada Geese In the Sunrise
Bird Photography,  Photo Processing,  Software

Does the Sky Replacement Feature in Photoshop Work for Bird Photographs?

There are plenty of blogs written on using the Adobe Photoshop Sky Replacement feature on landscapes.  But does Photoshop’s Sky Replacement feature work on bird photographs?

A lot of times in bird photography, you get a really good, sharp image of a bird with a dull sky behind the bird. Could Photoshop CC 2021’s Sky Replacement be the solution to quickly replace these dull skies?

Topaz Labs

In this blog, I wanted to test out replacing the sky on multiple bird photographs including birds in flight, birds perched in trees, and using sunset/sunrise backgrounds. 

I’ll also give you tips on slider adjustments for replacing the sky in bird photographs and show you a tip on how to easily clean up the layer masks once Photoshop’s sky replacement has finished.

Sandhill Crane in Flight

Sandhill Crane Sunset Sky Replacement
Sandhill Crane Sunset Sky Replacement

In this image, Photoshop did a good job relighting the bird to match the sunset.  It also did a decent job separating the bird from the background and created a pretty good mask.  There are some gray spots on the mask of the bird but I’ll show you a tip on how to easily clean that up below.

Sandhill Crane Layer Mask
Sandhill Crane Layer Mask

Eastern Kingbird on a Perch

Eastern Kingbird Sky Replacement
Eastern Kingbird Sky Replacement

Once again, photoshop did a good job separating the bird from the background, and it created a layer mask with just a few gray spots.  On this image, I used the scale slider to zoom in on the clouds and reposition them for a better look.

Eastern Kingbird Layer Mask
Eastern Kingbird Layer Mask

Juvenile Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow Sky Replacement
Swamp Sparrow Sky Replacement

I chose this photograph because it presents an interesting challenge where both limbs of the tree separate the sky.  It’s not quite as simple as locating the horizon in a landscape.  Photoshop did a really good job creating the layer mask and I only had a few spots to clean up. I also used the scale slider to zoom in on the clouds and reposition them.

Swamp Sparrow Layer Mask
Swamp Sparrow Layer Mask

Sliders and Tips

  • A lot of skies are taken for landscape photographs.  Try using the Scale Slider to zoom in on the clouds and reposition them using the move tool.
  • Take your own skies using your bird photography lens. This will give you the correct perspective with the clouds.
  • Move the Fade Edge slider almost all the way to the left.  This will remove the feathering between the black and white parts of the mask and cleanly separate the bird from the background.

Cleaning up the Layer Mask – The Easy Way

Once you click on the OK button in the Sky Replacement tool, Photoshop will create a group of layers and return you to the main Photoshop screen.  One of the layers (named “Sky”) contains a layer mask that separates the sky from the bird.

This is the layer mask that you want to examine to see how well photoshop separated the background from the bird.  There will probably be few gray spots to clean up.

Using the Burn Tool on a Layer Mask
Using the Burn Tool on a Layer Mask

Steps to Easily Clean up the Layer Mask

  • Hold down the Option Key (Mac) or Alt Key (Windows) and click on the layer mask in the Sky layer.  This will bring up the black and white layer mask.
  • Select the Burn Tool.  In the Burn Tool options at the top of the window, select Shadows in the Range drop down and set your exposure to around 50%.
  • With a soft, medium sized brush, paint over the black parts of the mask using the burn tool.  Since you selected Shadows in the Range drop down, the white parts of the mask will not be affected.

I was really surprised how well the Sky Replacement tool did on bird photographs.  So if you are in to replacing the backgrounds of your bird images, give the Photoshop Sky Replacement tool a try. Does the Sky Replacement Feature in Photoshop Work for Bird Photographs

Written by Martin Belan

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