Hi, I’m Kira DeDecker (“key-ra dee-decker”) and I’m a pet photographer serving Arizona’s greater Phoenix Metro area. Welcome to my blog! This is where I share not only my most recent work but also my life with you. Client sneak peeks, Facebook recaps, announcements, updates, awesome new offerings and the occasional (okay, frequent) story about my crazy but amazing life with my three dogs – Sox, Bixby and Waffles.

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August 17, 2015

Tips for Using Sky Overlays

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Working with sky overlays isn’t always easy. It’s a learning process, trust me, I was far from perfect when I first started (wait, what are you doing? No, don’t go look at my archives – let’s pretend that feature doesn’t exists). My hope here is to save you some time by sharing some of my experiences that I learned thought trial and error.

And before I continue here comes the prerequisite Get it right in Camera speech. I love sharing my tips and techniques with you but it’s important to note that the reason I have lush green grass, or amazing skies and what not in my photos are because I shoot for those things. Yes, there are times when things are out of our control or we make mistakes, or simply we want more creative control with our images – that’s why these tutorial’s exist after all BUT always strive to have a good foundation to work on.

So if you are interested, here is post where I used both a sky overlay and another photo where I recovered the sky. And here is another B&A featuring a recovered sky.

So I’ve already written a blog post on to apply sky overlays. It’s old and needs to be updated (it’s on my long to-do list) but it will have to do for now.

Why I do use Sky Overlays?
Because I totally blew out the sky that even RAW can’t bring it back
Because the sky is just a boring blob of blue
Because the sky isn’t just a boring blob of blue but I still hate it anyways
I want a little more drama in my skyline
I want something interchangeable.
and the best reason of all…Because I can.

Tips for Using Sky Overlays

Observe. This is super important, especially if you are a natural light photographer, because this will give you a good guideline of what will look natural in your own photos. So when possible, try to recover the sky in your photos and inspect what you see. How does DOF look in your skyline? White Balance and color? How vibrant or washed out is the sky? How does your position affect the view?

Edit. Cloud overlays work best when you edit them along with the original image. Why? Because it helps give them a seamless look. Don’t be afraid to alter the overlay once you place it in! A few of the things I do once I place a sky: blur, selective color, change blending modes etc.

Opacity. Tweak with the opacity of your sky overlay. I usually stick around 20%-70% range (the median being around 40%) when I want a natural look, 100% when I’m crafting an image with a particular look. I suggest adjusting the opacity to match not only the brightness of your photo, but the look and feel of your image as well. And a side note: decreasing the opacity makes it waaaay easier to blend in!

DOF/Blur. A good rule of thumb is that the cloud DOF should match the DOF in the background (where the sky and land meet basically) but you know what, feel free to break that rule every once in a while. Inevitably whenever I post a photo where I didn’t blur the sky some old dude photographer will try to tell to change it but guess what…that’s not going to happen.

Choosing the right sky. Not all sky overlays are created equal. I sometimes have to try a few skies until I find a few that I really like for a particular image. It’s important to make sure the overlay’s position of the horizon matches your photo’s.

Color. For instance, I like the blues in my sky to be more cyan than magenta so after I place the overlay, I always tweak with the color. Nothing sticks out more than a sky that doesn’t match any of the tones surrounding it.

White Balance. Something people tend to forget that is the sky overlay is going to have a totally different white balance than your photo!

Light Source. Watch where the light is coming from. For instance, if the light is hitting your subject from the left, it makes no sense if your cloud overlay has the sun coming in from the right.

Tree Bokeh. Plant bokeh is a total PITA when working with overlays because the bokeh always seems to have a halo of highlights and leftover sky color in them. Take extra time to blend in these places. Sometimes it helps to change the blending mode or refine the layer mask.

Layer Masks are your friend! Just about everyone has there own technique for placing overlays – none of them are wrong – it really boils down to personal prefence but the one thing I really strongly suggest is using layer masks. Keep your editing as non-destructive as possible! And working with layer masks is way less stressful them using the eraser IMO.

Blending. Using a layer mask, I blend like crazy with a big fluffy brush (usually set to 15%) and blend where the overlay meets photo.

Blending mode. Multiply mode is a godsend to working with sky overlays. If you are having a tough time getting your sky to integrate, try multiply blending mode. The sky will look the same, but now it’s blending into the image much better.

Cut your loses. You can’t keep every little hair or branch. You have to clone out or cut out elements that aren’t working.

Refine Mask. Admittedly, there are like a million ways to use and implant sky overlays (background eraser, layer blend options and so on) so this is very much biased BUT it’s an amazing tool and you should be using it…or at least try it.

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Kira DeDecker is an on-location lifestyle pet photographer specializing in one-of-a-kind fine art and modern portraits. She works exclusively with dogs, cats and all other four legged creatures to create vibrant, quirky and soulful works of art.She also photographs needy animals pro-bono for non-profit animal organizations (like Cavalier Rescue USA).

Kira DeDecker Photography is a editorial and commercial pet photographer based in Glendale AZ and serves the Metro Phoenix area (Scottsdale, Peoria, Phoenix, Suncity, Surprise, Goodyear, Avondale and Tempe) and beyond.

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The List 
The Daily Dog Tag 1,2,3,4,5,6
Hair of the Dog 1,2,3
Pretty Fluffy 1,2
Itty Bitty & Fluffy 1,2,
Healthy Paws 
PAWSH Magazine & Studio
Joy Session 1,2,3
Beautiful Beasties 1,2,3,4

Kira DeDecker | info@kiradedecker.com | Arizona Pet Photography