Sky as a part of photograph
by Vadim Makarov for his Photo Pages
Article also available in Russian
Where are my blue skies? They are all washed out. photographer's complain
A general advice in this situation is that you should watch the light.
Look carefully: light changes.
Lighting of the sky relative to other objects
depends on the time of day, direction of shooting, weather, clouds configuration and
other atmospheric conditions. It can be very different. Here are a couple examples:
Have you seen overcast skies like these?
The shots are genuine, not a result of Photoshop manipulation.
Soft light with low contrast between ground and sky often occurs in twilight,
especially if your turn your back to the sun. Sun is below the horizon in twilight.
This kind of shooting requires a bit of planning, patience and a tripod,
because exposure times would be few seconds and longer. Examples:
If the sky is not the best lit, several tricks are available:
Your choice of film, exposure technique and, if you print in a lab, the printing
process/operator affects a lot. No magic combination of these factors, however,
would substitute photographer's skill and discipline to find, recognize the image,
wait for light and take a good photograph.
- Very often, white featureless sky cannot be avoided. In this case,
compose to exclude the dull sky from the picture, or show just a little of it.
Make sure the rest of the shot is interesting:
Light scattered from a not-completely-overcast sky is partially polarized.
Clear sky at right angle to the sun has the highest degree of polarization.
Using a polarizing filter is a topic deserving a separate article.
Let me just show one image with sky darkened by polarizer:
Without polarizer, sky would have been brighter relative to the monument and of less saturate color.
If foreground objects are in shadow, you can use flash to reduce contrast
between foreground and background (sky):
You can also use a filter whose one half is darker than the other
(graduated neutral density filter, Grad ND)
to reduce contrast between parts of the scene.
I'm not using this technique, but am employing a more versatile approach.
I select arbitrarily shaped areas on scanned image in Photoshop
and then selectively adjust them:
Sky and hill on the background were carefully selected and darkened (actually, their contrast
was increased by pulling darker tones down while leaving highlights unshifted;
this was done with Curves tool in Photoshop).
It was not possible to wait for better light for this group picture.
Three areas - monument, sky and stone -
were selected separately and individually adjusted.
I got this shot after few days of waiting for better light,
nevertheless the raw scan from slide didn't look quite right.
The best result I was able to achieve without selective adjustments,
only adjusting the image as a whole. You decide if it looks better.
Necessary digression: with enough skill, you can do virtually anything in Photoshop.
If you, however, want to call the result a photograph,
please don't cross the border that separates it from digital art when you edit your work.
The difference between the two is thoroughly explained on the FoundView site.
It is also very easy to overdo adjustments or
do them not carefully enough, resulting in unnatural look.
May the Light be with you.
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- Light - understanding quality of light is an essential skill in photography, including sky photography
- Star Trails - the ultimate way to make sky look interesting