Three Tips for a Great Photo of the Sky

Image courtesy of Erica Ogden

As we continue digging into photographing nature, we’re turning our attention to the sky and taking some tips from a lesson in our Members program. The sky can provide stunning colors and moods and this early fall time of year is perfect for dramatic sunsets that are late enough to be after dinner, but early enough to be before having to get kiddos to bed.

1. Plan ahead

Watch the weather and plan out the time of day you want to shoot.  The sky has lots to show all day!  A calm sunrise.  A crystal blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.  A storm cloud rolling in.  A gorgeous sunset.  A weather app might be helpful.  Check the sunrise and sunset times and what kind of weather might be rolling in.

Image courtesy of SPS Member Jody Wiele
Image courtesy of SPS Member Sarah Erickson

2. Watch your composition

Using the Rule of Thirds and leading lines can really help bring your viewer’s eye to the beauty of the sky.  Pay special attention where your horizon line falls.  Placing the horizon on the bottom thirds line allows the sky to “win” and really steal the show. Silhouettes and reflections can also add drama and story to your image.  You can use trees, mountains or hills, or silhouetted kids to add visual interest to your image.

Image courtesy of SPS Member Jennifer Donley

Image courtesy of Melissa Tokariwski

3. Expose wisely

Getting a well exposed shot of the sky can be a little bit of a challenge sometimes. Whether you’re shooting with a camera or with your phone, we’ve got a tip to help your shot shine.

If you’re using your phone, tap your screen on the part of the sky you want the camera to use to determine exposure (brightness). Most often that will be the brightest part of the sky, but you may need to play around just a bit to find a balance between the bright and the dark. Exposing for a bright part of the image will help you avoid blowing out your highlights (making your highlights so bright that there’s nothing left but bright white in the image).

It will probably mean that some other areas of your image are darker than you’d like, but you should be able to edit your image to brighten them.

If you’re using a camera, you’ll want to shoot in manual if at all possible (shooting in RAW is a bonus, too!) Shooting in manual gives you complete control of what settings are being adjusted to accomplish the shot.  Just like with a phone, you’ll want to shoot for the exposing the highlights well (and adjust the shadows in editing later).  Keep your ISO low and for greater flexibility in editing, you’ll want to shoot in RAW. 

Image courtesy of Kate Cavanagh
Image courtesy of SPS Member Carolyn Walter

Sky’s the limit here, friends! (See what I did there?) Truthfully, though, there’s so much fun to be had playing with sky shots and so much beauty just waiting to be captured.

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