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In this tutorial I illustrate how to spice up the “Tropical Island” preset (with its drab blue sky) with a more photorealistic 2D sky photo (which you can usually find on the internet or in stock photos).
Create a 2D “plane” and align it perpendicular to the ground. You will need to manipulate this plane to eventually fill up the entire production frame of the camera. Be sure to position the plane behind 3D objects that will render in front of it (i.e. the island in this case).
Use the advanced Multi Channel shader settings on the plane and change only the “Color” setting to a “Texture Map” in which I loaded the cloud image that I had. Continue to do the same thing with the “Glow” setting and turn up the glow on the texture according to your preferences. This will cause the backdrop to become independent of other light sources. You may want to eliminate any highlight, reflection, and transparency if you have them enabled.
To map the image correctly I used parametric mapping and used the rotate arrow by the texture preview to ensure that my sky image appeared right side up. When the image is oriented correctly, switch back to your workspace and resize the plane until you fill the production frame of your camera. Note that your cloud/sky image should be at least greater in resolution than what you are rendering at, otherwise you will lose detail in your 2D sky, making the scene look less realistic.
Render away and notice that the reflections of the water interact with your 2D sky composite. Not only that but your mundane blue sky has been replaced by a realistic backdrop that you can now position accurately and fully modify with any 3D deformers. Try effects such as changing the alpha to allow backlight to bleed through. Warping and shattering the sky can work as a surprise element in animations as well. If you have a high resolution video clip you can also utilize that in the same process shown here to establish a video sky composite.
Be creative and enjoy!