Welcome to Exploring with a Camera! Today I’m going to talk about capturing the sky. The sky is a subject that I’ve been fascinated with over the last few months, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned through observation. This post has a lot of information, and at the bottom you will find a link tool where you can link in your sky images to share too. I hope you will include any tips or personal observations you have, and increase the knowledge through the power of a community.
What is it about the sky that is so fascinating to me? I think because it is always changing, it is always interesting. The sky is never the same. The weather and clouds, the change in light from the time of day and season, and where you are located all have a dramatic impact on how the sky looks. Not only that, compositional choices, camera settings for exposure and post processing can have a big impact on the final appearance of the sky.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed…
The image leading this post off is an example of what I call a “big sky” image. Captured on the Oregon Coast in 2008, this wonderful sky has stuck in my mind. Why does the sky feel so big in this image? First, the photo was taken with a wide angle (short focal length), which enables the capture of a lot of space. Second, the horizon is positioned low in the image, so the the sky is dominant. Finally, you can’t ignore the effect of the cloud formation. The formation itself leads you into the distance and gives more depth. I want to mention that I did boost the color in this image, to emphasize the blue of the sky.
Here’s another big sky image, from the Amalfi Coast of Italy. This image is similar to the Oregon Coast image, not only in subject, but in the focal length, placement of horizon, and interesting cloud formations.
How you choose to compose your image, horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) orientation, has an impact on the feel of the sky. The image below, of the sky above Mt. Vesuvius in the Bay of Pompeii, emphasizes the height of the sky, rather than the width or expanse as seen in the previous images. The vertical format compresses the depth of the clouds coming toward the viewer to create height.
Here is another vertical example, above the Swiss Alps. I find it interesting how both of these images make the sky and the clouds seem so large compared to the massive mountains. Note that both also use a low horizon, to emphasize the sky.
When capturing the sky, I like to have something to provide contrast to the sky itself, something to ground the image and provide a frame of reference. I find I ground my images with a piece of something real, even if I don’t include the horizon. The tree in this image of sky from Madrid grounds the image, giving a little bit of context without changing the focal point.
Contrast that with a slightly wider angle crop, below, and you can see the difference in the focal point of sky versus temple. The sky is still an important feature, but the temple becomes the primary focal point.
Using selective color processing on a reflection of the sky can completely change an image. In this image of my son from 2007, I loved how revealing only the sky in color gave me a feeling of springtime hope and moved the focal point to the sky in reflection.
Finally, I want to explore the sky as a backdrop. Sometimes an image just doesn’t work without the backdrop of the sky. It may not be the focal point, but an interesting sky in concert with other elements make a great image. This Parco di Monza sunset image needs both the sky and the tree in silhouette to work.