Image Manipulation - Part 1
Image Editing

Image editing can be as simple as removing a background or as complicated as creating a completely new picture from pieces of many others. I prefer to call the latter painting with pictures. The first article in this series will be a "how to" on adding clouds to a blank sky.

Years ago, before I started to work with graphics on the computer, my husband and I went to a meeting of a camera club where we lived. We did not know that this meeting was the highlight of their year and consisted of a judged show with judges from other cities. Everyone seemed to take this show very seriously. When it came down to judging the category of capturing motion or action shots, one of the pictures was an excellent shot of a boy on a jet ski. However, one of the judges seriously considered the shot to not be of winning calibre because she claimed, (and this is the truth) that the photographer should have moved the sun to a better location. It was at this point that my husband and I left to never return. Now one can, through the use of the computer, move that obstinate sun.

Recently my husband and I were at the Wild Life Refuge in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. Every day, there, was glorious. Except for one day, there was not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, the day with the perfect fluffy white clouds was a Saturday and every boy scout troupe from a 100 mile radius was climbing the boulders and wading in the water. Thus, I could not get the shots I desired. The previous day with not a cloud in the sky, I had taken a lot of shots which upon development I liked. Fortunately, I always take cloud shots whenever I see formations I like. Since surrounding these beautiful mountains was a constant haze of pollution, I decided to take a number of cloud shots capturing the haze in case I needed to blend any of them with any remants left of the former sky. In the following examples, I did not have to.

There is more than one way to add clouds. The simplest way is to remove the blank sky completedly and substitute a sky with clouds; this is very easy to do when there aren't any leafy type folliage protruding into the sky. However, if there are trees or other leafy or small objects like branches reaching into the sky, it is very hard to remove the sky cleanly and add the new sky without the final result looking false. Nevertheless, it can be done, and I will demonstrate both ways of adding clouds.

The first example that I will discuss is simply removing the sky and adding a new sky. The second way I will describe simply adds another step to the first process. I use Adobe Photoshop for the majority of my work; however, these techniques can be used with most image editing software.

Example 1

The two images I used were the photograph I call "Weeds and Water" and a cloud scene that complemented the tones in the photograph.

Step 1 - The main image cannot be the background image because the new sky has to be pasted behind it. So select the original photograph and copy and paste it into a newfile.The result will look like the illustration on the right.

Step 2 - The sky needs to be removed from the top layer so that the clouds can be slipped in between the Background and Layer 1 which is the original image. Since we want to only remove the blue from the sky, but yet make sure it is removed from behind the trees, we will use the Eye Dropper tool. But first we must isolate the sky. One can do this by drawing a loose line with the lasso around the sky or by using the Rectangle Selection Tool. See the illustration on the left to show how I isolated the area. The red line represents the Rectangle Selection tool.

Step 3 - Once the area is isolated, select the Eye Dropper tool and choose a medium shade of blue from the sky. In Adobe Photoshop, go to select/color range and for this picture I set the sliding scale at 57. The setting of 57 allowed me not to include the slightly blue tinted top of the trees. If this type of option is not available, then one will have to use the Magic Wand tool and ignore using the rectangle selectoin tool to first isolate the area (the red line). Once the sky is selected , delete it. If you use a Magic Wand type of tool, you will probably have to make a number of passes or use additional commands such as grow if your program has such capabilities.

Step 4 - Now the sky will be prepared to be added tothe picture. First select it,and then choose edit/copy and paste it into the new picture that is shown in the "Layer's" illustration. Select, the Background, and hit edit/paste. The sky will now be positioned in the middle ( Layer 2).

Step 5 - Move the sky layer so that the clouds are positioned where desired. Sometimes if the layer has to be moved too much to the left or right, blank space can appear. Often this can be corrected by just stretching the layer a little or filling in the space using the Cloning tool, also called a Rubber Stamp.


Example 2

The second method I described in the beginning of this tutorial involved working with an image that had folliage or thin branches protruding into the area of the sky. This can require a slightly different approach. The illustration on the right is the original photograph. While there are some clouds in the sky, I decided to change them and substitute a new sky.

Step 1 - I duplicated this picture so that I had a background and a copy of the background layer. In photoshop I clicked once on the right and only arrow on the layers palette and chose duplicate.

Step 2 - I selected the Background copy, which is above the Background, and deleted the sky as I did in the first example. This time, I decided to be more precise and instead of using the rectangle selection tool, I drew a line with the Lasso tool( represented by the red line in the lower part of the illustration on the left).

3 - Then I selected the Background and made a new selection (similar to the one referred to above) using the Lasso tool around the trees' protruding dead branches including a little of the background greenery. I used my eye dropper to select the color of the protruding dead tree limbs. Next I followed the same pattern as I did with the sky. I clicked on select/color range. I chose a number on the sliding scale so that most of the branches were included as well as the brownish area in the background. I, then, hit enter.

Step 4 - Once the branches were selected, I performed an edit/copy, clicked on the Background copy layer and did edit/paste. The figure on the left shows steps 3and 4.

Step 5 - A sky was selected and copied (as in Example 1) and, then, pasted between the Background and the Background copy, by selecting the Background and then selecting edit/paste. The cloud layer (Layer 2) was positioned according to the instructions in Example 1, Step 5. See the illustration on the right.

The bottom illustration shows the completed picture. In this picture, I adjusted the color of the sky so that it would match the water and, also, darkened the image a little.