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Many of the most breathtaking photos that you’ve ever seen include dramatic skies that set the mood for the entire scene you are viewing. Each sky, with its clouds and subtle range of hues, is completely unique and will only ever happen once; so if you can capture that special moment in your work you can walk away with some spectacular photography.
Learning how to make the most of what nature gives you is one of the most difficult things in photography, however there are some basic principles that you can apply to your work to ensure that you don’t miss the opportunity to shoot those incredible skies.
There are times when the sky is naturally dramatic, with heavy dark clouds and a brooding atmosphere, but in other situations you have to work a bit harder to get the best out of the scene. However, there are many ways that you can go about doing this to ensure that your photos have dramatic skies that perfectly complement the other elements of the images.
You can take beautiful shots of the skies at any time of the day and in any weather conditions or season. It will require some practise and knowledge to master photographing dramatic skies but if you follow some basic rules you’ll soon be achieving the results you want.
Time Your Shots To Get The Best Results.
If you’re wondering when the best time to capture stunningly dramatic skies in your photos is, then one of the indicators that you can’t ignore is the weather. Often, when the weather is the worst you can actually get the most impressive photos however you can also work during the morning and evening Golden Hour.
When you’re planning a potential photoshoot, always keep your eye on the weather forecast because this will give you the information you need to plan the perfect photoshoot. For example, if you want to take some photos of dark looming clouds then you will want to head out during a storm or incoming bad weather!
Alternatively, if you want a calm sunset photoshoot then watch for a spell of warm dry weather when the dust in the air will intensify the colors of the setting sun.
It’s always a good idea to visit the sites of future photoshoots in advance so you can decide while you’re there how you can best the make use of the scenery. You might come to the conclusion that a particular location would look the most dramatic with a dark, brooding sky full of heavy clouds while another site might look better on a sunny day with wisps of clouds streaking the sky.
Use The Manual Settings On Your Camera.
To ensure that you capture a dramatic sky in your photography you should always use the manual settings on your camera because an overexposed image can spell disaster! This allows you to properly control the exposure of the shot, modify the ISO and depth of field. If you haven’t experimented with your camera’s manual settings you should explore the Exposure Triangle which refers to the shutter speed, ISO and aperture and the ways that they fit together in photography.
The Importance Of Shooting In RAW Format.
Most people who use a digital camera will shoot their images in the usual JPEG format however if you want to get the most information possible from the scene then you should be saving your images in a RAW format instead.
Using the RAW format on your digital camera gives you a far better dynamic range, colors and higher resolutions. All this not only improves the quality of the images but it also leaves you with more scope for post production tweaks and image enhancements. When you’re trying to capture dramatic skies in your photography the post production process can be invaluable and in a RAW format you can adjust the exposure levels, shift the white balance and crop the image without degrading the image quality.
Sunrises And Sunsets.
One of the most dramatic times of day is when the sun is rising and setting since the lower angle of the sun creates a lovely warm light that can be used to shoot incredible photos. While the sun is rising or setting you can capture a spectacular array of colors including many that cannot be seen during the rest of the day.
While you are shooting during the Golden Hours try to use the clouds to your benefit. The clouds can be used to create interesting leading lines and add wonderful textures to your images, both of which are crucial elements in a powerful picture of the sky.
To come away with highly dramatic photos of the sky you need to work on your compositional skills so you can do justice to the potentials available to you. Regardless of whether you are using the sky as the central subject of your photos or as the backdrop for another subject, the way that you place the elements within the frame will make the difference between a professional looking image and something which looks amateur and ill thought out.
It’s vital to consider where you place the horizon when you are creating your compositions. When you are placing the horizon in your photos you can refer to tried and tested methods such as the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio to guide your decision making process.
To use the Rule of Thirds you need to mentally divide the viewfinder into 9 sectors, divided by 3 horizontal and 3 vertical lines. You then place the horizon along one of the horizontal lines and other points of interest in the composition on the intersections of the grid lines. This will give you a well balanced composition that is naturally harmonious and pleasing to the eye.
Use Filters To Supercharge Your Sky Photography.
If you want to get the most of your sky photography then you should be using a circular polarizing filter (CPL). This is an absolutely essential piece of equipment because it really makes the colors much richer. For instance the blue of the sky will be ‘bluer’ and really stand out well from the other elements in the image.
Your CPL is designed to remove glare and help to reduce the negative impacts of reflections from water and other elements in the scene. This means that your photos will retain their colors and improve your ability to capture the fine details of the scene. Once you have attached the filter you can adjust it to get the level of polarization that works best in the weather conditions you’re working in.
Another excellent filter that you can use in your sky photography is a neutral density filter. This type of filter is also designed to reduce the glare in your photos and has the effect of making skies look more silky and smooth when used with a slow shutter speed setting. This can be used to fantastic effect in your photography, particularly if there are dramatic clouds in the sky that you want to incorporate in your composition.
Use Silhouettes To Create Drama In The Image.
When shooting pictures of the sky you can often create fantastic points of interest by using silhouettes in your work. You can silhouette any subject you like provided it’s properly backlit; although it works best if the subject has a recognizable form that is easy to distinguish.
It’s less challenging to shoot silhouettes during the Golden Hour because the sun is lower in the sky and the colors of sky will be at their best. You can also take silhouette shots while the sun is high in the sky however because of the large amount of diffused and scattered light it can be hard to keep your subject properly silhouetted.
Reflections Are A Creative Way To Shoot The Sky.
When it comes to taking unique photos of the sky, one of the most creative ways that you can approach it is by using the reflections of the sky in bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean on a calm day. You should remember to carefully frame the composition so that your shot includes both the sky and the water or even, if you can, only the water. This will give an interesting mirror shot of the sky on the surface of the water. As well as the reflection itself the water’s surface will add texture to the scene.
To help orientate your viewers you can use subjects such as boats or people to indicate which side of the image is the ground!
Change The White Balance.
When you’re shooting photos of the sky you can experiment with the white balance to bring out the dramatic elements of the scene. It’s especially effective to change the white balance during the Golden Hour but it’s a good trick to use at any time of the day.
To increase the hues around sunset or deepen the blue of the sky you can use the presets on your camera including Auto, Cloudy or Shade. For more abstract photos you can even use the Fluorescent preset on your camera or the Tungsten setting to deepen the colors!
Use Slow Shutter Speeds To Blur Motion.
One of the most exciting ways to create dramatic photos of the sky is to make use of the slower shutter speed settings on your camera. You can use a slow shutter speed to show the clouds moving across the sky. You will definitely need to use a tripod to keep your camera steady during the shots but as you’ll discover when you try this technique for yourself the results can be stunning.
Creating the sense of movement in the sky will add a fascinating layer of interest to the image. To be able to capture the motion of the clouds, depending on how windy it is, will require you to use a shutter speed of 10 seconds or more. You should also be using a small aperture setting and a low ISO setting or 100 or 200 to keep the depth of field large and the noise in the image to a minimum.
Dramatic Skies Perfectly Set The Mood Of A Photo.
Everyone has looked up at the sky during their life and marveled at the vast magnificence of the natural world; and when this is captured in a still image the results are loved by audiences everywhere. When you’re looking to create atmospheric, immersive and exciting photos the sky and the backdrop of the image are just as important as the subjects in the foreground. There’s a wide scope for experimentation when you’re shooting the sky and with some practise you can begin to incorporate the authentic majesty of the sky in your work.
Which is your preferred way of shooting the sky?
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