ON1 Sky Swap AI
As Travel Photographers we are always at the mercy of the weather. When we are at home, we can pick and choose when to go out to take a shot, but when you’re travelling and only have a limited time you want to make the most of it and unfortunately, mother nature does not always cooperate. Photography purists would shudder at the thought of manipulating an image by replacing elements. There are many Landscape Photographers that loathe anyone that would consider replacing a sky and would sooner return home empty-handed rather than manipulate an image. Funnily enough, these are the same photographers that would not think twice about cloning an unwanted object from an image. Well, we’re happy to say we are definitely NOT in that camp.
At the end of the day, all we care about is that the manipulation we make looks as natural as possible. The above shot was taken at Matsumoto Castle in Japan and unfortunately, we had a washed-out winter’s day sky. For us, the result was unusable. In cases like this, it is an easy decision to rescue the image with an app such as ON1 Swap Sky AI.
ON1 Swap Sky AI
ON1 Swap Sky was only just released (March 2023) as a standalone app. It is not new. The same tool can be found in the ON1 flagship product – ON1 Photo Raw 2023.
For those that don’t already own Photo Raw, the good people at ON1 realised that many photographers are entrenched in the software that they have been using for a long time to do all their editing eg Lightroom, Capture etc. and do not want to change over to ON1 Photo RAW 2023. Nevertheless, they still would like to use certain features of ON1 that can’t be accomplished in Lightroom, Capture etc. For this reason, they have released several standalone apps such as ON1 Effects, ON1 HDR, ON1 Portrait AI, ON1 No Noise AI, and ON1 Resize AI to cater for those that do not use ON1 Photo Raw 2023 as their main editing suite.
ON1 were not the first company to introduce Sky Replacement, however, it’s not really a question of who released it first rather than who does it better. The results are the deciding factor. This post is not a comparison post between sky replacement apps, but a review of how well ON1 performs the function it was designed for.
ON1 Sky Swap AI is a standalone app that can also be used as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom Classic, Capture One, Affinity Photo, Corel Paintshop Pro, and Apple Photos.
The app also includes 231 skies, although we would suggest you try to limit the use of these. Ultimately, it is better to use your own stock of skies. At the very least, try to mix it up a bit by using some of the skies provided in the app and your own.
When opening an image, ON1 Sky Swap AI will auto-detect the sky and create a mask. In general, we have found that the auto-detect masking is good, but not perfect for all images. There are tools that can refine the mask to make it better, but unless there are very defined differences between the sky and foreground then the auto-detect struggles. We found that the difference between the sky and sea at the horizon was a consistent problem. If you are using the app as a plug-in you may want to increase the contrast in a scene before shipping it off to Sky Swap.
Having said that, the results on many images were absolutely spot-on and only minor tweaks were needed to create a stunning image.
Getting started is really easy. When you open the app via a plug-in or as a standalone you will be presented with an interface with the following box. We’re not sure why the button says “Open Photos” as we could only open a single photo. Anyway, just click on the blue button to open an image.
Once you have selected a photo to open you will be presented with a page that looks like below. A “Learning Hub” pop-up will also appear allowing you to visit some great tutorials on using the app. If you do not want to see this box every time you open ON1 Sky Swap AI then uncheck the “Show at Launch” checkbox in the bottom left-hand corner. If you have purchased the app you will not have the green ‘Buy Now’ button as this is the Trial Version. We already own ON1 Photo Raw 2023 so we only needed the Trial Version for this post. If you hover over the image you will see a magnified version of the interface. You will notice that the app has already made a mask of the sky.
Left: On the left-hand side of the interface a several tools that are quite useful. Most of these tools are designed to refine the mask. There’s a crop tool, local adjustment tool, mask tool, refine mask tool, retouch tool and view tool. When selected, each tool will open a range of parameters that you can adjust at the top of the image. Below are the parameters for the Refine Mask tool. For this particular tool, you are given the options of the Refine Mask Tool, Chisel Mask Tool, and Blur Mask Tool. We would suggest you click on each of the tools to determine what each one does to your image to familiarise yourself with the tool. We have found that the Refine Mask tool is particularly useful for cleaning up a mask along the edges, especially around tree branches.
Left: The main panel is on the right-hand side of the interface and this is where all the magic happens. At the very top, you have a panel that reads Nav, Levels, Info, and History. These are all pretty straightforward. We usually leave this set to Levels (Histogram) so that we can see what any adjustments are doing to our Black and White points. If you highlight the two small triangles in the top right and left of the graph you will see clipping warnings (blue for blacks and red for whites). This is mostly useful to ensure you do not clip the highlights (whites).
Below the Levels graph are two tabs – Sky and Local. The Sky tab contains all the tools for making changes to the sky mask. Any changes made here will only affect the sky. For any adjustments to the foreground, you must select the Local tab and add adjustments.
The main Sky Swap AI panel contains the mask that the app has auto-detected. To view the mask just click on it and you will be given a lot of options. The Levels tool is particularly useful for tightening the edges of the mask and also the Color Range tool which is deselected by default. This one is great for creating a mask based on colour. Especially good when you are replacing a blue sky with no clouds.
Right: Below the mask are the Sky categories. Within each of these categories is a selection of different skies to choose from. Once you have selected the category just click on the drop-down next to the Sky and you will be presented with the different skies in that category. If you want to use your own sky you can use the import button in this section.
With the last update of the application, they have added an alternative tool to auto-detect the Mask. If you find that the mask is not that accurate then try changing the Method from Model A to Model B. This is particularly useful with shots that include buildings.
The rest of the features are pretty self-explanatory and you can experiment with these yourself to see the results. Make sure that if you have a reflective object in your image such as water, you check the Reflections option to get an inverted mask in the reflection. You can then change the reflection opacity and positioning to make it as natural as possible.
Below are some examples of where the software works seamlessly and some images that it does struggle with.
Above: Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. This is a pretty easy image for ON1 Sky Swap AI. It has done a remarkable job with the sky areas in the trees.
Above: Kiyosumi Gardens in Tokyo, Japan. Once again, although the original sky is not that bad it is pretty boring. ON1 Sky Swap AI does a fantastic job with the sky areas in the branches.
Above: Roppongi in Tokyo, Japan. This was taken with a 12mm fisheye lens so there is a bit of distortion. We thought that this might be a bit more difficult for ON1 Sky Swap AI but once again it handled it admirably.
Above: Yoyogi Gardens in Tokyo, Japan. We were adamant that ON1 Sky Swap AI would not be able to handle this image, and we were right. Even though it does a great job with the sky it could not handle the areas containing the water spray from the fountain. At this stage, we wouldn’t expect that any software or even manual sky replacement would work with this type of image.
Above: The Moku Moku Waku Waku Yokohama YoYo installation in Yokohama, Japan. Generally, sky replacement apps have never been good at detecting skies looking straight up. However, in this case, it has performed a reasonable result, however, it did not detect the white band of clouds on the far right of the image. This can be fixed by using the masking tools.
ON1 Sky Swap AI is occasionally on sale, so you can purchase it for a bargain price if you’re willing to wait. Alternatively, click on the code or banner below and use our discount code ‘ WIDESCENES20‘ to receive an immediate 20% discount on the software (or any ON1 product).
At the time of writing it costs just over AUD$68.00 (In USD it is about $45.00). It will auto-detect your region and give you the price based on the region.
No sky replacement software is perfect, but over the next few years we expect it will get better and better.
ON1 Sky Swap AI in our opinion is an awesome application and worth every cent for those that want to swap skies. Yes, there are images that will be challenging, however, the majority of your images will work perfectly in the app.
As it currently stands, we think that ON1 Sky Swap AI achieves the best results so far when swapping skies, especially around more difficult areas such as trees and branches.
Travel photographers or any outdoor photographer will be delighted with the results that are achieved in ON1 Sky Swap but as mentioned previously, even though a huge amount of skies have been included with the app (231 to be exact), we would strongly suggest you start using your own skies. Alternatively, make sure you use the Scale, Flip or any other tool that changes the orientation of the sky so that it will look both natural and different to images where you may have used the same sky.
Naturally, we would prefer to not rely on sky replacement software to change our skies, however, knowing we have it in our arsenal to rescue images taken on the fly is incredibly useful to us.
If you do not want to purchase the flagship app ON1 Photo Raw then we highly recommend you try or purchase ON1 Sky Swap AI and use it as a plug-in to your main editing app such as Lightroom, Capture etc.
If you’re still sitting on the fence, why not download a trial version (it is free) and give it a go for yourself. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
If you have any comments or questions, please drop us a comment below.
RATED: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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