I learned today why every photographer should have a great collection of cloud and sky images. You know the scenario, perfect subject, perfect lighting, drab cloudless sky!
A couple of weeks back I did a commercial fashion shoot. It was late in the evening and the sun was starting to quickly fade. It had been an overcast day and the sky was a boring grey with very little interest in the clouds. Lucky for my client I’m also in the habit of photographing cloud formations. I have over a hundred of them now sitting in my photo collection ready to be used whenever the need arises.
The image above was the result of an hour post processing, switching a drab sky for a more dramatic cloud formation. If you’ve ever changed sky photos into black and white, you’ll understand what a challenge it was to find the right cloud formation. I went through a dozen images before settling on this dramatic sky that had the perfect mix of light and dark.
For comparison here is the original edit with a drab sky. As you can see, the clouds on this day were virtually non existent.
Below is another example taken on the same day, this time in color, with a beautiful evening sky seen behind the models.
The original had the same dull sky you see in the first example above. This time I chose to switch it for a vertical sky shot I had on my hard drive.
Tips for shooting sky photos
You can never have too many photographs of clouds, skies, sunsets and sunrises. No longer do you have to wait for the weather to be interesting to make a truly spectacular image. As long as you have plenty of cloud formations in your photo collection, you can simply Photoshop the sky right in! Here are our best tips for shooting great sky photos.
- Use all your lenses, telephoto zooms, wide angle lenses, general walk arounds. Zoom in, zoom out, photograph panoramas, shoot them both horizontally and vertically. But mostly shoot them wide and get as much into one scene as possible. You can always crop and resize as you wish later on.
- Use a polarizing filter to help bring out as much detail as possible.
- Photograph all types of clouds. Dark angry clouds, happy fluffy clouds, Cirrus and Cumulus are my personal favorites. Photograph them at sunset, sunrise, midday or midnight for that matter! Overcast days, sunny days, just keep shooting whenever you see a dramatic sky formation.
- Keep your camera ISO setting low. Personally I don’t go over 200 ISO for clouds. You want to keep them clean and noise free.
- Photograph the sky from every direction in reference to the sun and lighting as well. When you clone in a new sky the lighting on the main subject needs to match the lighting on the sky. After all, you want it to appear believable.
- I set the lowest aperture f-number possible. A sky or cloud formation is so far away your camera aperture setting becomes virtually unimportant. Just make sure the camera is focusing on the actual sky and not a nearby object.
Quick tutorial for inserting a different sky into an image
- Using Photoshop, layer the good sky image on top of the original, then hide it so you can’t see it.
- While looking at the original image, grab the magic wand tool and highlight all the sky area that you want to replace. You do this by pressing your keyboard Shift button and clicking around the sky. You may need to adjust the tolerance setting along the top toolbar if you have any problems doing this.
- When the dull sky is all highlighted by marching ants, click the dramatic sky layer (in the layers window) then add a layer mask. Don’t forget to unhide the layer so you can see it. Presto! That’s all there is to it.
Remember this was the quick tutorial. It does take practice, especially when hair and other fine elements are involved. Often you can go through several cloud photos before finding the right combination and balance, so you’ll also need plenty of patience.