Interesting skies can pop up at any time of the day, at any point during the year so really it's just about keeping an eye out on the weather forecast and sticking your head out of the window to see what's happening. If you're out and find one spot you particularly like it might be worth setting up for the day to just see what happens. You never know you could end up with a series of shots that feature a brilliant sunrise and interesting cloud formations all from the same place.
What Gear Do I Need?
A wide-angle lens will help you make the most of big, interesting skies. Just keep an eye on what's creeping in at the edges of the shots as the wide view can mean less interesting parts of the sky end up in frame. Pack tripod in the car and pocket an ND Grad to help you capture a more balanced exposure and a solid ND filter for when you're just shooting the sky.
Look At The Sky Before You Take Your Shot
If the sky's boring and flat don't let it dominate the scene. Instead, move the horizon up slightly so you have more foreground interest. For times when they sky really does sing do the opposite and move the horizon down, cutting more of the foreground out so all attention falls on the clouds, sunset colours or whatever other feature makes the sky stand out.
Get The Exposure Right
Getting the exposure right can be a little tricky due to the differences in contrast between the sky and ground. It could even be the ground that's a lot lighter than the ground, rather than the usual bright sky syndrome many people usually have to face. This will happen when there's a storm brewing or just after the rain's stopped falling.
When it comes to metering, most of the time you just need to focus on the highlighted areas of the image (which is usually the sky) and the darker areas will sort themselves out. However, if you find the foreground ends up too dark use exposure compensation to increase the exposure by one stop.
Photo by David Clapp.
Tips On Using Filters
If you find the sky's still a little too bright fit a Graduated Neutral Density filter to even out the exposure. If it's the ground that's too light try rotating the filter so the dark part of the graduation sits over the ground.
Use Clouds In Your Shots
If you have a sky full of interesting cloud formations the key is to making sure the clouds aren't too bright. Check your histogram if you're unsure. Make sure you're ready to shoot an interesting formation as soon as you see it as they change shape quickly and if the clouds are rather breath-taking remember to lose some of the ground to make the sky your focus.
Blurring the movement of the clouds is an interesting effect that can also help create leading lines to guide the eye through the photograph. If you're shooting on a bright-ish day you'll need to fit an ND filter so you can use the slower shutter speeds without too much light reaching the sensor.
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