At SLR Lounge, our goal is to help you create images that look as natural and realistic as possible, all the while teaching you how to use advanced Photoshop techniques.
When adding clouds to a scene, we have five tips that will be helpful for you to keep in mind in order to create seamless, natural looking images. Follow them and you’ll be off to a great start every single time you begin to blend your images together.
This tutorial is for the SLR Lounge Cloud Pack, a collection of over 400 cloud images designed to help photographers add interest to the skies of their images.
1. MATCH THE MOOD AND POST PROCESSING
Anytime you combine two photos, the post-processing needs to match as closely as possible. Even the most subtle differences in color, brightness, or contrast will make your final image look unnatural. So, when you are merging a beautiful, cloud-filled sky with your foreground, always remember to adjust each source layer for color, tone, and contrast separately (we will explore this further in the following tutorials).
2. MATCH YOUR HORIZONS
One thing that is rarely mentioned in other Photoshop tutorials is that it is preferable to make the horizons in both images line up with each other. We’ve provided all of our Cloud Pack images with horizons present within the image so that this is possible with any scene you choose to integrate into your own. If your primary image doesn’t have a clear horizon, you have a lot more wiggle room in selecting the clouds you would like to use.
3. MATCH THE FOCAL LENGTHS
Another thing to pay attention to is the approximate focal lengths of the images that are being combined. If you have a beautiful stock image of a sky that was photographed at 24mm or 16mm, it may look out of place if you try to put it on a telephoto image, shot at 85mm or greater. Try to match source and target images roughly in these four categories:
4. MATCH THE TIME OF DAY & APPARENT WEATHER
Pay attention to the approximate time of the day your images were captured, because it is very difficult to seamlessly combine images from completely different parts of the day. For example, placing clouds from a sunset on top of a noon-day photo is difficult to do without it looking unnatural.
Also, try your best to match the “weather” of a scene. For example, placing a flat grey overcast sky to a scene that has sunlight would also look unnatural.
5. MATCH THE DIRECTION OF SUNLIGHT
This is similar to the guidelines above, but it acts as one final check to ensure a realistic composite. Always look at the shadows in your image and take note if their directionality is very obvious. If the sunlight is coming from the right of your image, make sure the clouds you select are also lit from the right. The same rule applies for all directions, including backlit and front-lit scenes. If you’re not sure which direction your clouds should be facing, but you know you want a dramatic, shadowy look, try flipping your clouds horizontally to see which direction of light which looks better and more natural.
BONUS TIP: GET A SECOND OPINION!
It never hurts to get a second option. Show the image to anyone nearby and just ask, “Does this look real?” Getting the opinion of a fellow photographer is helpful, however, a significant other, friend or co-worker can also give a fresh perspective. Be sure to explain what you’ve done and see what they think.