Blue Skies Make Me Blue - What Do I Do?

September 15, 2017  •  2 Comments

Blue Skies Make Me Blue - What Do I Do?

One thing I've noticed is that there's lots of advice available on how to shoot landscape images in ‘bad’ weather. What to do if the skies are overcast, if it’s raining, when its foggy. What’s much harder to find is advice for when the weather isn’t ‘bad’. When the skies are blue and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

There is a saying that landscape photographers love bad weather. In general the weather before and after storms, when there’s heavy clouds and lots of definition in the sky, creates a sense of drama and dynamism that’s hard to get any other way.

Clouds are, for the most part, the landscape photographers friend. They diffuse the light create beautiful soft tones and textures. They create shadows on the landscape. They also, of course, add interest to the sky.

But what happens when there’s no cloud? What can you do to capture beautiful landscape images on clear days?

Because I live in a country that has lots of sunshine this is something I often find myself dealing with, and I wanted to share a few of my experiences about how to get good images when the sky is clear.

The first thing to say is that you are unlikely to get moody and dramatic images on days with clear skies. If that’s the kind of image you want then you really will need to come back another time when the clouds are present.

I normally try to plan my shoots for when there is going to be cloud but, as I have found over time, the weather forecasts here, particularly forecasts for cloud cover, are completed unreliable.

So, if I’m out and the promised clouds aren’t there then I have to make a decision. Sometimes it’s go home but, more often than not, I will carry on and see what I can get. 

Personally, my first choice when the sky is blue is to shoot an image where a large amount of the sky is taken up with something fairly big to break up the blue. This could be a mountain, or a tree, or a hill, or anything that takes your fancy. By breaking up the sky in this way you avoid having a great big expanse of blue that can be quite boring.

Another option is to go a bit further and almost fill up the sky with something. This often means shooting with a longer focal length and / or getting in close to a subject. I often find backlit trees work well for this kind of shot.

Or, if you have something suitable in the area, fill the whole sky up with it. It has to be something interesting and I often find this works best if the thing I am shooting is side lit rather than being in shadow or front lit.

Another way to break up a lot of blue sky is to go for the ‘frame in the frame’ approach. Find a nice focal point and then find a vantage point that lets you frame it with something else.
 

Another option is to get up high and look down on a scene. This way you can exclude the sky completely and, if the light is coming from the side you can get some lovely texture from the play of light and shadows on the landscape.

You can also create a feature of the blue sky. In this case I would look for something that really contrasts against the blue and try to come up with a composition. That’s what I did in this image where the late afternoon light on the mountain created a nice warm glow that contrasted well with the deep blue of the sky

A few things that I tend to avoid when the sky is clear

Shooting towards the light. 

Often, when there is a clear sky, shooting towards the light will result in the sky taking on a pale and washed out look. I normally find that shooting with the sun to one side, or behind me works best. The exception is if I am shooting something like a tree with backlighting when I’m not too worried about the sky.

Seascapes

In general I find that seascapes look pretty dull with a blue sky. The reason for this is normally because there is a lack of contrast between the sea and the sky and the image tends to just merge together. Of course if you have some nice sea stacks or something like that then it may well work.

Wide angle lenses with polarisers

As I mentioned in my tips for shooting with wide angle lenses this combination can be a problem, having said that, the image of the orange glow on the mountain and the deep blue sky above only worked with a polariser, I just had to be really careful not to overdo it.

Two options that I haven’t mentioned here are Black and White and Infrared.

I have seen some quite stunning images of both kinds taken when the sky is clear and blue. The contrast that can be achieved is remarkable. The reason that I’m not covering them is simply because they are not things I do often (in the case of Infrared, ever) so it doesn't feel right to make any recommendations about them when I don’t have the right experience of them.

There is a third option that I haven’t covered and that’s the sky replacement or adding clouds in Photoshop option. I have seen some beautiful images created by the addition of clouds or complete skies in Photoshop. It’s something I’ve played with out of interest, just to see how it works, but, to be honest, I’ve never had any real success with it. That’s probably down to my photoshop skills and patience. There are plenty of tutorials out there if you want to learn how to do this, just search on YouTube. Of course there are people who will say this is cheating, but I always say ‘it’s your art, create it however you like’.

I hope you’ve found this of interest. If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover in these posts then please let me know in the comments.
 

 


Comments

Ralph Goldsmith
Thank you Wolf, glad you enjoyed it
Wolf Tinz(non-registered)
As always Ralph your blog covers the subject thoroughly and your incite and solutions are spot on, thank you.
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