How not to blow out the sky?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by sleake, May 4, 2008.

  1. I was out today taking some pictures, trying to learn not to blow out the sky. It was a partly cloudy day,
    in a park. I was using a Cokin P series 121M gradient ND filter. Seemed I was always blowing the sky.

    What is the "basic" philosophy or technique to keep the sky from over powering? I'm reading and
    trying, but just not getting there yet.

    Did I possibly need a darker filter (more stops)? Should have have stacked a regular ND with the
    gradient ND? My guess is that wouldn't help because the difference from the ground to the sky would
    have still been too far apart.

    When you are shooting a landscape and want to capture the sky and clouds, how do you do it?

    Without some detail and color in the sky, it really makes for a bland photo.


  2. Scott,

    To help everybody giving advice, could you post a sample of the image you are having a problem with, along with the relevant settings and filter information?

    My guess is that you probably needed a stronger, or possibly differently edged, filter, but I'd like to see a sample. Using a sky with a lot of white as practice might not be fair to yourself. ;)
  3. Scott, other members might be better able to help you more if you told us what medium you were using. Were you shooting traditional B&W film in a classic Rolleiflex? Kodak color film in a Pentax k1000 or a Leica? Fuji 4x5? Polaroid? Is your favored camera a new Canikon Mega-pixel Marvel? With so many photographers now using so many different formats and media we cannot automatically assume one over the other. The answers made be determined by the type of tools you use.
  4. Gee, you can't read my mind? :)

    Sorry, I should know better. Using a Nikon D300. 12 bit NEF. Cokin 121M filter. Using matrix metering.

    Looking back through my photos, I realize I did a poor job of keeping track of which I used what filter with, so it is a little more difficult to tell. I was just trying to learn and had that "I have the filter, everything sould work". I'll go back over the pics and see if I can pull a couple. My guess is stronger filter.

    Sorry for being brain dead tonight...


    Let me see if I can post a couple for some input.
  5. This answer makes a couple of assumptions: one; that you're using a tripod, and two; that you have Photoshop or some other image editor that has layer capabilities.

    Make two exposures. Meter one for the sky and one for the landscape. Don't mess with the focal length and usually don't mess with the f-stop.

    Layer them in Photoshop.

    This can be done in the camera too. The manual, which I don't have in front of me, has information on the settings.
  6. stp


    Keep in mind that not all skies are created equal. A blue sky with some puffy cumulus
    clouds will blend nicely and naturally with the landscape if the sun is at your back, while
    a high overcast looking toward the sun will be many times lighter than the landscape
    (and therefore difficult to capture in a single shot). For those times when the sky is
    much lighter, you generally have four choices: 1) use an "appropriate" graduated
    neutral density filter, 2) take two exposures as Eric suggested, 3) process a single raw
    image at two different exposures, or 4) duplicate the image as a new layer, darken or
    lighten one layer, and use the gradient tool to bring the layers into proper balance.
    Wait, I forgot 5) HDR, in which the computer does #2 (preferably using more than two
  7. There are several options. One is to shoot in RAW or whatever the Nikon equivalent is then make two developments, one for foreground and the other for sky : Then you can use an ND grad to bring the sky down - to my mind this tends to work better for cloudy skies.. Then you can take two sots at different exposures and combine them in PS.. The shot below is a combnation of two exposures :
  8. ...and here is one using different RAW developments of the same frame.
  9. ...and using ND grads + a bit of PS
  10. Colin's shots look so spectacularly nice.

    But i have never seen scenes like these in my many decades on earth. They are not
    what I consider photography. They use harsh digital manipulations and are digital art,
    no doubt, and of high, good caliber there. A bit like the Kincaid "paint by numbers
    kitsch" found centered above couches in parts of Europe, just the stags with huge
    antlers are missing for that form of "Kunst". Yet they do not represent any form of
    photographic realism for which i aspire in my work. Others may aspire otherwise.

    So if the poster wants to get into photography, he needs to show us his pics and let us
    see. If he aspires to get into digital art, he should do what Colin does so well.

    There is a fork in the road here, poster. Beware.
  11. Scott, as Frank doesn't like the above shotsI will upload the original versaion of the ND grad shot untouched by PS which will demonstarte what I mean. And it doesn't mater whether people like my shots or not we are discussung tevhniques and possibilitites not aesthetics. You can use the techniques to get whatever effect suits you. I can't remember how many ND grads I used but in these circumstances stacking ND grads will often get you a decent sky. There is a limit though and you can see the blue is turning a bit grey. I can't reember exactly what I used here but prbably in the order of a 0.9 but maube more. That wold be the equivalent of about 3 stops. I have a 0.9 a 0.6 and 0.3 too so mix and match the grads to the lightt. In this case the sun is shning through a thin veil of cloud as you can see which reduces its strength greatly. I always shoot a variety of combinations metering for the foreground and holding back the light sky. I also hand hold the filters as getting them in and out of holders while the light os changing so fast is a real pain. The big 4 inch ones are best as there is much less chance of getting fingers in the shot! .
  12. Scott,
    You haven't described your technique for using the grad. Here's a link explaining how to do it.
  13. [[But i have never seen scenes like these in my many decades on earth]]

    I find it hard to believe, Frank, that your eyes have less dynamic range than a digital sensor.
  14. stp


    I think one of the biggest challenges, as Frank alludes to, is to get an image derived
    from film/sensor to look like something the eye would see. Too far one way, and you
    end up with an image that lacks detail. Too far the other way, and you end up with an
    impossible image (at least to the eye). When the shaded backside of a rock looks
    brighter than the foreground fully exposed to the sun, that is an impossible image made
    possible only by digital manipulation.

    Based on the position of the sun, I find Colin's first image to be bordering on impossible,
    while the second image is very possible (had I not been told, I would have assumed it
    was a single exposure). Many viewers won't care and will find both to be beautiful
  15. My goal is to learn how to capture what I see as closely as I can in the camera with as little post work as possible.

    For me, there is a picture that has been a year in the making. My house/property backs up to some land that used to be a horse farm. There is a large pasture that is filled with "buttercups" (don't know the real name, that is what we called them when I was a kid) and when they are all in bloom, the entire field is yellow with little to no green to be seen. My goal has been to get the sun coming up behind the trees on the other side of the pasture, but that is where the blown sky comes in to play.

    Late this afternoon I tried with the sun behind me instead. A little different and the field isn't in full bloom yet, but below is what I got using my ND4 gradient Cokin. This is straight out of the camera. No adjustments whatsoever. Looks to be slightly overexposed to me, but I would appreciate your input. (and these were test shots, I'm still trying to figure out how I want to compose it in the end)
  16. Let me try that again...
  17. I give up. Here is another, different angle...
  18. stp


    Scott, in addition to a GND (if it is needed) for a shot like this, also consider a polarizer to
    really bring out the colors in the vegetation. Best of all is a polarizer with Velvia, but that's
    another conversation.
  19. Frank, give us all a break, please.

    The eye can not and will never be able to see an image like the one in the link below.

    It was created! The purpose of photography is to make photographs.

    Field notes: D70, 18-35mm AF f3.5-4.5 @18mm and f9. Single RAW exposure with CPL and 0.6 ND filter
  20. My intent here is not to turn this into a for and against kind of debate. Photography is art and as such, is subject to MUCH interpretation.

    Andy - did you do any post processing on that picture, or is it mostly as captured? I'm not trying to be a purist per se, just trying to understand.
  21. I'll second a polarizer. I am also not sure if there is tree line behind you that would block the sunlight as the sun dips, but you might want to think about taking the picture even later in the day if you can. Just don't try to take it right before sun set. The redder slightly dimmer light might help the flowers a lot, they look a little washed out to me. Otherwise looks like a pretty nice photo to me.

    Colin I love a lot of your pictures, especially the ship wreck. Not the style I personally go for, but I still like it a lot (I don't paint like Monet either, but I still admire his work).
  22. Scott, there is no such thing as a digital image that hasn't been post processed. Either the camera manufacturer does it, or you do it. Attached is the file before going into CS3 with some settings within the RAW converter. In CS3 I do as little as possible but ALWAYS sharpen as my last step. This is the biggest difference between the attached file and the one I posted earlier. Anyway, to answer you original post, I bracket my shots - one exposure for the sky and one for the shadows - and layer the images in Photoshop and use the Gradient Mask tool.
  23. Scott I have been having the same problem so I thank you for this post and have found the information you all provided very useful.
    I went to the zoo recently and battled with this due to the time of day mostly and the fact that every time I attempted a shot of the giraffes the sky spoiled nearly all my shots and I had some trouble working it out!

    I will give these tips a try and see how I go.

  24. Scott, there is no such thing as a digital image that hasn't been post processed.

    This also goes for film images. The sooner the twats who like to pontificate about what is and what isn't a photograph realise this, ....well.... the less cranky I'll be.
  25. Scott, try to make a RAW and then convert it into a HDR image... I bet the results will be great... As Stephen Penland said, RAW should do the perfect job...
  26. Scott, for the scene you show t looks as though you are pretty close to what you want. Here are some suggestions :

    1) Firat of all if possible I would shoot at dawn or evening when the sun is low as this gives better shadows and nicer light.

    2) I would wait for nice clouds (which you are doing)

    3) I would use a polariser and adjust the angle as required at the time.

    4) (aesthetic choice so ignore if not yur idea!) I think for this composition I would try to get as close as possible to te flowers so that the closest can be seen in detail

    5) I would go for camera on tripod and smallish aperture to get best depth of field. hen firing the shutter use the self timer to reduce camera shake.

    6) I would try apertures from f8 down to f22 and focus about one thrid of the way to the horizon at the most and also if you go for the idea above also try focising closer

    7) For fitlers I suggest you try the shot without ND grads as I think they don't mix well with polarisers but there is no harm in trying a 0.3 NDgrad as well as polariser.along with other shots..

    8) (Important) I would shoot in RAW and adjust the exposure of the final TIFF as required + or - a faction of a stop. Soetimes an thrird of a stop makes a difference. But in this case I do;t think much is required

    9) (aesthetic choice!) you could try some of the HDR techniques suggested above but probably you will not need them

    good luck!
  27. I used the possibility to change the exposure in RAW files to generate HDR files that pretty much kept foreground intact without blowing out the sky.
  28. Colin,

    Great tips, thanks! Getting all the "planets to align" for a shot can be a crap shoot. Trying to get the flowers in bloom, with the sun where I want and clouds in the sky. I have always appreciated great shots before, but this makes me appreciate them even more! The "I just happened upon this shot" seems more like a one in a million chance...

    I will give some of these a try and let you know. They all sound like good options and for me, the best way to learn is to try different things.


  29. I use graduated neutral density filters to bring down the sky as much as it needs according to metering the sky and then the foreground. If you're worried about blowing out sky and you're using digital, just check your histogram and adjust your exposure so you aren't clipping your highlights.

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