Testing 3 popular AI-powered sky replacement tools

This post is by from Popular Photography
A reflection in Mono Lake at sunset.
The sky and water reflection in this image were both replaced using tools in ON1 Photo RAW 2022. Jeff Carlson

AI-assisted photo technologies mostly exist to help you save time while editing, or improve image quality using small sensors or when processing images. But sometimes they can radically change your photos, as in the case with sky replacement features.

Swapping a sky in a photo was initially a head-scratcher for me. One of the appeals of landscape photography, for instance, is to get out amid nature and experience the colors and wonder of a sunrise or sunset. Doing that takes work: planning the shoot, determining the best time to arrive and set up, checking weather estimates, picking a composition, and sometimes standing around in cold weather waiting for the show to begin.

But with AI sky replacement, you could theoretically show up at any time, hang your camera out the car window, snap a shot, and then add someone else’s spectacular sky using your computer later. It feels like cheating and reinforces the feeling of many photographers that AI technologies are marginalizing craft and hard work. 

That’s an awfully traditional mindset, though, and I had to remember that photography encompasses a larger spectrum than my experience. Sky replacement is useful in real estate photography, where it’s rarely possible to wait around a house for ideal conditions, especially if you’re shooting three houses that day. Or you may need a better sky for an online advertisement.

Or you might be a landscape photographer who did put in the work, got skunked by a flat sky in a location you can’t easily return to, and want to make a creative composition anyway. We forget that most photography is art, and doesn’t need to hew to journalistic expectations of accuracy.

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