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Sky photography conjures thoughts of vividly colored clouds and electric hues. Ever changing conditions provide great windows of opportunity as cloud colors intensify. Influenced by many factors, the chance of getting the same conditions to ever repeat are almost impossible. Time of day, seasons, the jet stream, cloud patterns, and weather are just some of the variables that dictate the face of the sky. Capturing a dramatic one can be a challenge due to the variables. All too often, skies appear to be "vanilla" in flavor. Found below are some helpful hints to bring your sky-scapes to the next level.
FILTER IT - Post processing software provides many ways to tweak and modify RAW pixels. Over the years of working with many photographers, I've found some 'rely' on software to make the photo right. While there's nothing wrong with this, I am a firm believer that the less that needs to be done in post, the better. Being a slide shooter for many years engrained in me to make it right when the shutter is pressed. With this being said, I wouldn't be caught dead without my complete line of Nik software and the use of adjustment layers in Photoshop to boost the effect I desire but not to 'rescue' the image.
With regards to RAW capture, there are a handful of filters I never leave home without. I use a polarizer to help saturate the colors to remove glare and ensure I extract every bit of color from my subject. Surfaces that are wet or reflect the sun from the 'wrong' angle rob subjects of their color potential. Spin the polarizer and you'll see the colors pop. I also carry one stop, two stop, and three stop graduated neutral density filters to even out the exposure between a bright sky and shadowed foreground. I drop the dark part of the filter over the bight part of the scene to temper the contrast. Finally, to punch up the color in the sky, I use an enhancing filter, a Cokin sunset, or a number 30 magenta filter when I make sunset silhouettes. I restrict their use to silhouettes to impart the color to just the sky. The dark silhouette is not impacted by the filter's hue.
DAWN AND DUSK - Before sunrise and after sunset, there's a quality of light that's very unique. Known as alpenglow, when it's strong, it creates a magnificent gradation of color from a deep cobalt blue to tones of red, orange and yellow. Ordinary subjects become extraordinary when silhouetted against this beautiful wash of color. I love to shoot this phenomenon when the waning crescent moon rises in the eastern sky. The moon is bright and stands out in the alpenglow.
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE - As a dramatic sky starts to develop, look for surfaces to reflect its color. Water is a favorite as are windows, any metallic reflective surface, puddles, etc. If the water is still, you'll get a mirror image of the sky. If it's moving, the color will ripple off its surface adding compositional interest. Look for interesting ways to include both the sky and its double. Try using one or more of the previously mentioned filters to punch up the color. Always remember, when making sky-scapes, things are looking up!