The Easy Guide to Adding Clouds to an Image using Photoshop


The aim of this Guide is to provide easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions on how to add clouds to an image which has an otherwise blank sky, without the necessity of being a Photoshop guru to achieve it.

Many stunning images on RB are in fact composites, with clouds being brought in from another image to add impact. (Sometimes you can’t easily tell!) It works very well and can transform an image. I have three artworks on RB each being composite of two shots, one being clouds. This is my first and favourite, which is about to published in a High School textbook on digital imaging:

The original image of the building was clear sky – not a cloud in sight – and was thus a bit bland and boring and a perfect candidate for some cosmetic surgery. This tutorial was prompted by a request to explain how I did it.

I still call myself “new to Photoshop” and I have found a lot of on-line Photoshop tutorials, including some others on RB, assume a much higher level of knowledge than I have and are not very intuitive. So, I try to explain the steps in easy to understand terms (hopefully!) and, importantly, describe what each step should look like after it’s done. So if you are not seeing the result of each step replicated on your screen, you know you have to stop and try again. If this happens, go to the top toolbar, select Edit then Undo [whatever it is you’ve just done] from the drop-down menu and try again. (Many many tutorials lose me when they fail to include this vital “check back”.)

This tutorial is one of my longest, given the patience I apply, but once you get the hang of the actions, you will find the process rather quick to do. If you have already read and followed my Orton Effect tutorial (now updated and expanded to include thumbnails), you’ll know what I mean, hopefully, so don’t be put off by the length of this one. It only seems long.

I explain the steps based on using Photoshop Elements 6 (PE6), but users of more advanced Photoshop programs will be able to follow the same steps. I also have Photoshop CS2 (v9.0), for example, and there’s only one slight difference from the PE6 interface from what I can tell, which I will point out where it’s relevant.

If you want to refer back to this tutorial at leisure, feel free to favourite it as I never delete my tutorials. (After all, they’re more popular than my images!)

In writing this tutorial I just want to point out a few things. First, I have not read a single tutorial by someone else on this particular process, and the words are all mine. I wish to also acknowledge that Tatiana originally showed me this process. She’s so patient dealing with my impatience! And, finally, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to achieve what I describe. I’m just relating the method shown to me. Another popular method involves masking. There are LOTS of tutorials on masking. If I have the time and the inclination I will update this tutorial later to include the steps for masking as an alternate process – it’s a completely different path to take to achieve the same result.

OK, here we go. Ready?

Step One

Clouds. You need some cloud photos. Beg, borrow or steal some, or better still, shoot some. I have a folder of nothing but cloud photos. Any day the sky puts on a show I will try and shoot the clouds, just to save them for later use. If you shoot some clouds in JPEG, make sure you shoot them in colour – you can always desaturate to B&W if the image you want to use them in is also in B&W, but if you shoot them in B&W in JPEG you won’t be able to convert to colour to match a colour image. Just another reason to shoot in RAW, really.

For this tutorial, I am going to use an infra-red image needing a sky and a B&W sky shot. In theory, this will look weird, and maybe it does, but I will also show you how you can then gradually desaturate an image after inserting the B&W sky and achieve quite a startling effect when you leave just a touch of colour.

For best results, try to have nothing else in the frame of your cloud shot but sky. No trees or power lines! (If that’s not possible then crop the crap out. But note that creates a potential problem because now your cloud shot will be a different size than the image you want to drop the sky into. That can be fixed, but let’s just worry about equally-sized images for now.)

Another advantage of having a “clean” cloud shot is that you can rotate it to horizontal or vertical, depending on the aspect of the image you want to use the sky in, but a tip is to shoot your clouds in both horizontal and vertical aspects. This way you won’t be working hard when you have a vertical shot to add some clouds (such as the sample image for this Tutorial) and you only a horizontal cloud to use. So, next time you see some awesome clouds grab the camera and take some shots, just to save in a Cloud Folder until you need them one day, just like shooting stuff for use later as textured layers.

Here’s a little cloud photo I prepared earlier:

Step Two

Your main image. The one without any clouds. The one you want to insert some action into, some drama. Try to select an image with a completely blank sky. It makes it so much easier for the Magic Wand (I’ll explain later) to figure out the portion of the sky you want to replace, ie all of it.

Try to also select an image with straight lines, like a building or, even better, a straight uninterrupted horizon of a landscape or seascape. If you’ve got stuff popping up into the sky, like trees, the method I describe is just made soooo much harder and you may as well stop reading now and go watch TV or a movie. (At this point, the Photoshop gurus are shaking their heads and groaning, because THEY know another method to get around this when doing composites, but we’ll leave THEM on their lofty perches, ok?)

Here’s a little image I prepared earlier. You may recognise the building:

Cool, but be aware of one important thing: perspective. Unless you are trying to be rather obvious in creating your composite, the perspective of your main image needs to be the same as that used to capture your chosen cloud image. The images I am using for this tutorial were shot from the same perspective, or in other words, with the lens at roughly the same angle for both shots – looking up, at around 70 degrees relative to the ground. If I was to choose instead as my main image a landscape with a horizon, the cloud image I have chosen will not be suitable unless you actually want that abstract feel. Have I explained that well? Tell me if I haven’t.

Now, let’s commence cooking our composite. I will refer to my two images in this tutorial as Clouds and Building, just for ease of reference.

Step Three

You’ve got Photoshop Elements (“PE”) open. Now select File from the top toolbar and select Open from the drop-down menu. Choose your Building shot and open it, like so:

Notice I have moved my Building across to the right of the window. You should do the same with yours, for the reason which will become obvious soon. OK, now look across to the right of your screen. See the Layers palette? It should be showing a thumbnail of the Building image, together with the label Background, like so:

Before we go, here’s that fail-safe tip again. Anytime you make a mistake, or miss what I’m saying, or just don’t like the result of something, you can always select Edit from the top menu then Undo [whatever it is you just did], like so:

Just don’t select Edit and Revert unless you really really want to undo everything and start again with the image you opened!

Now, once again, select File from the top toolbar and select Open from the drop-down menu. Choose your Cloud shot and open it, like so:

Look back across to the Layers palette. You should now see a thumbnail of the Cloud image, together with the label Background, like so:

Move the mouse over to the Layers palette. Left click and hold over the thumbnail of the Cloud, and drag it over to the sky – anywhere in the sky. Release the mouse button.

A copy of the Cloud image should now be “superimposed” over the Building image, like so:

Don’t worry if it doesn’t fit. You would have noticed my Building image is smaller than the Clouds. This is because I cropped it. This has caused PE 6 to “tweak” the Clouds to fit. For this tutorial I’m not fussed, but another tip is to try to have the same size images to work with.

Look back over to the Layers palette. You should now be seeing two thumbnails – the top one called Layer 1 which is the “front” image, and the bottom thumbnail called Background, which is your Building image, like so:

Now, ignoring the Layers palette, left click on the Cloud image sitting behind the “superimposed” image. Close it, leaving your window looking like this:

Step Four

Look over to the Layers palette again. See that group of little icons just above the top thumbnail? Hover your mouse slowly over them and their functions should come up, eg the 3rd icon from the left looks like a trash can and when you hover the mouse over it a little word bar comes up saying Delete layer. Well we don’t want to do that. Instead, hover the mouse over the icon on the far left, the one that is a square with an upturned corner. It should say Create new layer. Just remember where that icon is for now. (If you are using Photoshop CS2 or CS3 or CS4, the group of icons is at the bottom of the Layers palette. Hover the mouse over the icons until you find the one that says Create new layer. Remember it.)

Now, left click and hold down the mouse over the bottom thumbnail in the Layers palette – it’s the thumbnail of the Building that’s labelled Background – and drag it over to the Create new layer icon. Release the mouse.

You should now see three thumbnails in the Layers palette, labelled, from top to bottom: Layer 1, Background copy, and Background, like so:

Step Five

This is a slightly tricky step. Another click and drag, but best done smoothly and slowly.

Left click and hold down the mouse over the Background copy thumbnail in the Layers palette and drag it to just over the top of the Layer 1 thumbnail. Release the mouse. All we are doing here is reversing the order of the top and middle thumbnails, so now your Layers palette should still show three thumbnails, but now in order from top to bottom: Background copy, Layer 1, and Background, like so:

Step Six

Ok, now the meaty stuff starts.

Look over to the left toolbar now (or palette, whatever you want to call it). Hover your mouse until you find the icon labelled Magic Wand. It looks like, um, a magic wand, but don’t confuse it with the Quick selection tool immediately below it. This is the Magic Wand icon:

Click on the Magic Wand icon. Your mouse pointer should now have the distinct look of a, um, magic wand. Look up at the little toolbar immediately above the image (which, incidentally, should be of the Building). Make sure the box marked Contiguous is ticked, like so:

Notice also the Tolerance is set at 10. This is important. Depending on the Building, the lower the tolerance the better, as it leaves less scope for gaps to appear needing to be fixed when we do the actual composite (which I show you how to fix anyway). Trial and error on the Tolerance, trial and error.

Now left click once on the sky in the Building image. You should now see marching ants completely around the sky and along the exterior part of the building which protrudes into the sky, like so:

(Believe it or not, the technical term for marching ants is …. marching ants.) If those ants aren’t lining up right against the Building, try clicking the sky again with the Magic Wand closer to the building but still in the sky, or try a different tolerance level. Even an adjustment of 1 will make a difference. Trial and error.

Step Seven

Look closely at the marching ants where they meet the edge of the building. Are there any gaps where you can see the sky? This is important, because if you don’t shift the path of the ants so that they align to the edge of the building, your new sky won’t cover that gap. Enlarge the image if you are not sure.

If you see a gap, it is easily fixed. First, press and hold Shift on your keyboard. Second, left click once on the mouse on a gap. Let go the Shift key. You should immediately see those obedient ants form up against the building across the image. Cool, eh?

Now, go to the top horizontal toolbar and select Edit. From the drop-down menu select Delete, like so:

This will delete your bland boring sky and replace it with your new dramatic sky !!!

How cool is that?! Epic.

Step Eight

Now we have to send the ants home. Go again to the top toolbar and select Select. From the drop-down menu now select Deselect (ha! ha! I love a good alliteration!), like so:

Your marching ants should be no more, gone in fact.

Does your image look something like this?

How cool is that?

Step Nine

Nearly done!

At this juncture, you have two options. You can finish now with the image you’ve got or you can adjust the look of the Building alone and/or the Clouds alone and then finalise the image.

To finish now, right click and hold the mouse over the top thumbnail in the Layers palette. Select Flatten image from the drop-down menu – it’s the last menu option:

The thumbnails should have collapsed into one thumbnail, called Background, like so:

You can now save your image, you’re all done!

To work further on the Building alone and/or the Clouds alone, simply left click once on either the Background copy thumbnail and/or the Layer 1 thumbnail and make your adjustments as you would normally do with an image, and then flatten your image and save it.

Which is what I did with this image. I simply increased the contrast on the building and desaturated it to the level where there is just a hint of colour.

To alter contrast, select Enhance from the top horizontal toolbar, then select Adjust Lighting from the drop-down menu, then select Brightness/Contrast from the second drop-down menu, like so:

A separate window will open and there is your contrast slider:

To desaturate, select Enhance again from the top horizontal toolbar, then select Adjust Colour from the drop-down menu, then select Adjust Hue/Saturation from the second drop-down menu, like so:

A separate window will open and there is your saturation slider:

So, how does it look? Here’s mine:

Epic or what?!

Cheers and happy clouding!

If you liked this tutorial, you may also find these of interest:

  1. The NEW and IMPROVED Easy Guide to Creating the Orton Effect using Photoshop
  2. The Easy Guide to Creating Samples of Artwork on Redbubble – UPDATED
  3. The Easy Guide to Creating Clickable Images on Redbubble
  4. The Easy Guide to Creating Links on Redbubble
  5. Mirror Lock-up – what it is & when to use it
  6. The Easy Guide To Applying Motion Blur
  7. The Ultimate Easy Guide To Neutral Density Filters
  8. The Easy Guide To Basic Photoshop

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