This beautiful grist mill is located in Jericho, Vermont, and I photographed it on my recent photo tour to New England. The original sky was white, and since I found that to be less than ideal (white skies are very distracting because our eyes are drawn to the lightest part of a photo first), I wanted to introduce some clouds. A blue sky wouldn’t be appropriate since that would imply direct sunlight, and this scene was illuminated by overcast conditions.
Therefore, the only thing that made sense was to put in a sky of gray clouds. The problem, of course, was all that vegetation. That made it very difficult to use my usual technique of cutting around subjects with the pen tool. The magic wand tool was useless in this situation.
The only way to make this into a believable composite was to use a layer mask with the gradient tool. Here is the procedure:
1. Open a cloud photo (the same size as the grist mill shot), choose Select > all, and then Edit > copy. This put the cloud image in the clipboard, Photoshop’s temporary holding place for one photo at a time.
2. Activate the grist mill image and use Edit > paste. This placed the cloud photo over the mill and the river.
3. Choose Layer > layer mask > reveal all (or click the small icon just to the right of the f/x icon at the bottom of the layers palette — this is the shortcut).
4. Make sure the foreground/background color boxes at the bottom of the tools palette are black/white, respectively.
5. Choose the gradient tool. Drag the cursor from the bottom of the clouds to the top. The lower portion of the clouds will disappear leaving the top portion visible. If there are too many clouds, start dragging the cursor about 1/4 up from the bottom of the image. Experiment with exactly how you drag the cursor until the clouds look good. In this case, I started dragging about 3/5 up from the bottom.
6. Click on the brush tool, and now you can brush away clouds that cover parts of the subject that should be free of them, such as, in this case, the mill itself.
- Jim Zuckerman is a top stock photographer who teaches at BetterPhoto's digital photography school. His Photoshop courses online include Creative Techniques in Photoshop, Advanced Creative Techniques in Photoshop and Photoshop: Thinking Outside the Box.
- Jim Z is a contributor to two BetterPhoto Guide books (co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager): the just-published The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and the upcoming The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (due out in April 2012).