The Sky’s the Limit: Taking Amazing Photos of the Sky
When it comes to photographing the sky, the first thing that may come to mind is sunrises, sunsets, and clouds. Photographing a sunrise/sunset is one of the most difficult photographs you can ever take in nature because a spectacular sky full of reds, oranges, and yellows does not happen very often. You can spend days, weeks, and months showing up every day ready to capture that special scene, but the atmospheric conditions may never cooperate.
That will be the first and foremost ingredient for sunrises and sunsets: being vigilant. You have to be ready to go when all the necessary elements come together. Luck is a huge factor too but if you’ll never capture that sky if you aren’t prepared. The batteries in your camera need to be charged and your memory card needs to have enough space for more images.
You also should have a spot picked out where you can run to if you see the sky is going to grant you your winning shot. Do you want on old barn in the foreground or power lines and garbage cans? It doesn’t matter if it’s one or the other depending on what you want to present but trying to do it on the fly is going to make it that much harder.
If you go out and practice doing sunrises and sunsets, you will begin to realize there are certain dynamics that can affect the scene. Many people assume you should photograph the sun as it’s touching the horizon, but the most vibrant colors occur when the sun is below the skyline and out of sight. You will find that the colors can change and can change quickly. You will have only a small window of time to catch the colors at their peak.
Just before and just after sunrise and sunset are also known as the Blue Hour (before) and Golden Hour (after). The light is soft and can put a unique hue across the landscape. Turn around so the sun is at your back and see if there is anything that is worthy of taking pictures. If there are clouds or storms in the distance, that setting/rising sun will create different lighting effects on the clouds. Even if there are no clouds the darkening sky may be a rich and deeper blue. When it comes to photographing clouds by themselves, two elements that will affect your images are the time of day and the weather. Blue sky with cotton ball puff clouds versus dark, stormy clouds are very different situations. Perhaps the sun is coming out from behind a cloud giving one of those godly/heaven type scenes. You may want to use a UV filter to help control the light and make it more even. There are many other types of filters for creating various effects which is a separate subject so you might want to research those options.
One of the biggest problems shooting toward the sun is the sky being too bright with the foreground coming out dark. If you have a tripod you can take two pictures, one that captures the sky with the proper exposure then one of the foreground. Then you can combine the two images together with photo editing software. You can still do the same thing without a tripod, but it may require a little extra work putting the two images together. You can even take two different pictures taken at different times and places and combine the sky and foreground together but that crosses the line from photography to digital art. Those fantastic pictures you see on the internet, you’d be surprised how many of them are really the blending of two separate images.
Going back to what was mentioned before, you have to be vigilant when photographing the sky. You have to get out and try and keep learning. There are many dynamics involved and by being aware of them and gaining experience you will improve your skills for photographing the sky. Here’s one example: It’s a beautiful summer day, the crops are in the field, there is an old barn in front of you, and the sky if filled with those cotton balls. Do you just go and snap the picture and be on your way?
What if one of those cotton balls is blocking the sun and casting a shadow over the barn and the landscape in your immediate area? If you look at the offending cloud, it should be moving, but sometimes if can be floating along at a pace that is painfully slow. You may have to wait a good 15 minutes for the cloud to move on and allow the sun to light up the landscape again. This is such a simple thing to understand, but you will miss this this concept if you’re not paying attention. When you realize that just standing there and waiting for the cloud to move on, you will have begun to learn many of the simple tricks that will allow you to capture some of those stunning sky images.