I try to become a better landscape photographer. I try to invest more in traveling to unique places than in new gear and I get a lot of good pictures but only a very small fraction of them stands out. Also I try to get out early and also late to get the best light. I even camp at certain locations to be there very early in the morning.

I often encounter sunrises where its just getting brighter and brighter without any golden light or dramatic looking clouds. This leads me to revisiting places again and again but most the time there are

  1. too many clouds
  2. no clouds at all - doesnt give a pleasing look
  3. nice amount of clouds but no dramatic colors.

Same applies for sunset. It is a little bit frustrating sometimes. Before I try to capture an image I check the weather in my weather app and I look up when sunrise is going to happen and from which direction. So far so good but nothing of that guarantees me a nice sunrise.

Of course this is something unpredictable but when I look at some landscape photographers portfolio (eg. Elia Locardi) I see a huge amount of images with very nice skies and gorgeous light. I cant imagine how often I would need to get to such locations again and again to be that lucky. This would require more time than I could invest and would also cost a lot of money.

Im now asking myself wether sky replacement in an editing software is used with some images. I watched a lot of online courses of such photographers and they almost never talk about replacing skies. Maybe this is something that they commonly do but don't like to talk about it because it is some kind of cheating.

Replacing a sky is not something that I would like to do to get better pictures. But as a professional I would understand that there is a certain pressure to deliver appealing pictures.

My question is: Do professional landscape photographers tend to replace skies? Is this something that is commonly done or not? Do they hesitate talking about it since it's some kind of faking? And how do they get so many nice images with nice sunrises and sunsets without replacing skies?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is you goal as a photographer? Do you want to take photos that are a snapshot of a moment in time, a reality, or do you want to create graphic art that is not an honest depiction of the landscape you are photographing? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Oct 5, 2020 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to replace skies you'll need a large collection of skies with the sun at the height and orientation, to find one that matches well enough. Maybe even more work than what you are doing right now. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Oct 6, 2020 at 11:30

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you are doing all the right things. This is fantastic and keep it up! Although it is frustrating that only a fraction stand out, that is reality. The reason people have fantastic photos is not because they get them all the time but they are really good at culling those that aren't. The average submission to publication ratio at National Geographic is around 100:1 and these are among the top photographers who are already highly skilled.

Some people do replace the sky when they don't get a good photo that they want which is fine but it not in my opinion photography, it's a different art form. If you want to become a better photographer, keep improving your photography skills. No publication will accept photos with elements replaced (sky or not) if they are trying to depict something real. On the other hand if you want to publish a calendar (or similar) of artistic images you can pretty much do whatever you want. There was a famous series that replaced all skies with a scaled up version so that the moon would appear much larger. That is art and it has it's place.

Elia Locardi has his own unique style created by heavy layering of images. Usually he takes the same photo over and over and painstakingly blends them by hand to select which area comes from which layer. By his account, it takes him several hours to days until all the layers are blended to his liking on some photos. He has been a presenter at several photo conferences and he's a very lively speaker that shares plenty of details on how he builds his images. The best comparison is something like HDR but over time. If you pay close attention to the lighting on his images, you can distinguish some parts taken at sunrise and some at sunset in the very same image.


Answering just for this bit, will edit in more late:

And how do they get so many nice images with nice sunrises and sunsets without replacing skies?

Plan accordingly. What I mean is, let's say that you want to go photograph the Sonoran Desert. You know, cactus, rocky mountains, and some of the most colorful sunsets you've ever seen with purples, oranges, and yellows.

Well, this is a desert, after all, indicating to you that it doesn't receive much rain. No rain means no clouds. If you were to make your trip there during the dry season, you'd be hard pressed to get decent sky shots. If, however, you were to do some googling, you'd note that the monsoon season is from December to January and from July to September, with August and September being particularly wet while May and June are particularly dry.

What this means to you is: plan to be there when you have the highest chance for a great looking, powerful sky. Plan to be in one main location for at least a week, preferably two. Feel free to scout different scenes, but realize you will be in one main locale, not touring the state. If you get lucky, maybe you'll get some great shots at that first locale and have time to go to another...but don't plan on that.

You only get two chances per day (sunrise and sunset) to really get those gorgeous shots...so plan plan plan!

So, how to those shooters get nice images without replacing skies? In a word: commitment.

  • Plan your location
  • Find the best time of year to go
  • Get yourself at least 1 week to be there, more is always better
  • Find your spot and scout your scenes, prioritizing them
  • Be there at least an hour before sunrise/sunset so that you are ready and not rushing when those golden hours come - they go fast

This is my own bias, but: travel alone. Having done this alone, with a significant other, and with a family...well, you're not dragging a child out of bed at 4:00am to then stand out in the cold/rain waiting for the sun to be in the perfect spot...or your lady/man friend either. So, if you want to prioritize your photography on a trip...then go alone or arrange to have that alone time.


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