Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pro-Tip #15: Get Creative: Finding Interesting Sky

Rolling Sand Dunes © Greg Clure
This year in my Pro-Tip section I am writing about ways to get creative so your images will standout from the other 880 billion photos that are expected to be taken in 2014. An easy way to turn an ordinary image into an extraordinary image that stands out from others taken in the same location is by finding some interesting sky.  Finding and including interesting sky in your image can often move your image up to the next level, so I have assembled some tips and tools to help you in this endeavor.
  1. Timing - Time your visit to when a storm is rolling through your chosen location. Often, right before or right after a storm rolls through you will find your best opportunity for capturing dramatic skies. While this is the best way to ensure you have an interesting sky to work with it may not always be that practical.  This works if you live nearby the scene you are shooting and can be on-site in short order, but does not work if you are traveling a long way from home.  If far from home, time your visit to a part of the calendar year where storms are more common and more frequent which increases your odds of being on site for dramatic skies.
  2. Weather Apps - These days you can get great information on advancing storms on your smart phone. Apps like AccuWeather or WeatherBug offer tons of weather information in the palm of your hand and can help decide where and what you should be shooting over the next few days.  I especially like the radar maps which show advancing cloud cover. Check the weather regularly and adjust your shooting schedule accordingly.
  3. Compose with the Sky in Mind - The rule of thirds will have you put your horizon line one-third up from the bottom or down from the top. If you have a dramatic sky than the upper two-thirds or even more can be dedicated to the sky.  This puts importance on the sky as your center of interest and is effective in telling your story of the drama in the sky.
  4. Use Filters - Polarisers are great for darkening up the blue in the sky and adding extra contrast pop to the clouds in the sky.  You might also need to use a graduated neutral density filter to bring down the brightness of your sky should the the dynamic range be to great for a single exposure. If your clouds are moving, you might consider using a streight netural density filter to lentghen your shutter speed and accentuate the clouds streaking across the sky as discused in Pro-Tip #14.
  5. Clear Blue Sky Strategy - Sometime Mother Nature is just not going to cooperate with your need for clouds and provides clear blue skies.  If you do need to include the clear blue sky in your composition you should work to minimize it as much as possible. Another strategy would be to switch gears and exclude the sky altogether from your compositions. Look for more intimate scenes or macros in areas of full shade to avoid the typical harshness that comes along with clear blue skies. You can also go out at sunrise or sunset where you can get some color (other than blue) from the low angle sunlight for your cloudless grand scenic shots.
  6. Dress for the Conditions - Dress in layers that you can adjust to the changing weather conditions. You are out in unstable weather so you need to be prepared for anything that might come your way. It can be clear, warm and sunny and turn cool, dark and rainy in a matter of minutes when a cold front rolls through.  Protect yourself and your gear with the appropriate covers should you get caught out in the storm. If you do get caught in the storm, seek shelter as soon as possible and be ready to return to your shoot location when things begin to clear.
Hopefully, you can use some or all of these tips to increase your odds in finding and capturing more interesting skies on your next photo outing.

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