Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part II   6 comments

A cloudless morning is hardly unusual at Death Valley, California, one of the driest places in the world.

Let’s continue with the subject of shooting under cloudless conditions, which for many of us is a real challenge.  You may even say clear blue skies are an obstacle to getting the photos you want.  But it’s not the only one.  Check out my other posts in this series for ways to get around all the other obstacles.

Here are the ways I deal with cloudless conditions:

  • Find Shade:  Seems obvious, right?  If you’re shooting people find some shade to put them under, preferably near a large reflective surface that bounces light up into their faces.  Shade can be in short supply, so shooting small things & details, even going macro, can be a very good idea.  With the blue skies overhead, your images will likely end up on the cool side, so warming up white balance in post-processing is usually required.
These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

 

  • Embrace Shadows:  Often when it’s clear and sunny out, you can use shadows as graphical elements (leading lines, etc.) to highlight certain parts of your subject.  The image at bottom is an example.  A low sun is key, so shoot in early morning or late afternoon.  By the way, I don’t really shoot strong graphical elements for their own sake; instead, they have to help highlight the subject or story I’m trying to show or tell.
Using shadows:  The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

Using shadows: The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

 

  • Use Diffuser & Fill Flash:  I have a portable hand-held diffuser panel that I use mostly to shoot flowers or other close-ups in bright contrasty light.  I place the diffuser panel as close to the subject as I can while keeping it out of the frame.  Using an off-camera flash can help fill shadows, even when you’re already in shade, and especially when photographing people.  Outdoors you rarely need to diffuse the light of the flash.   Just set flash exposure, shoot, then check the LCD to make sure it isn’t too bright or dim.  Repeat until you get just the right amount of fill light.

 

  • Black and White:  Shooting subjects that look good in black and white is a popular way to use high-contrast light to best effect.  If you wait until the sun is low, you can also work that side-light to your advantage, bringing out textures.
Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah.  Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road named Moki Dugway.

Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah. Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road called the Moki Dugway.

  • Keep it Simple:  Under clear skies, simple compositions work best.  For example, when shooting flowers, you would either use a diffuser (as mentioned above), which can work even when the sun is well up, or you can wait for the sun to sink low and shoot simply.  Single blooms, when spotlighted as in the image below, can look great in late afternoon light.
Bee plants are bloomin' in the Utah desert right now!

Bee plants are bloomin’ in the Utah desert right now!

 

  • Sunbursts:  An oldie but a goodie, sunbursts (at top and below) are created when you shoot with the sun in your frame and use a small aperture (f/22 for e.g.).  Other tips:  (1) Pay attention to exposure by using your histogram and re-shoot if you’re blowing out (too bright) or blocking (too dark) important parts of the image.  (2) Use obstructing elements in front of the sun, like tree branches or rock silhouettes, to increase or modify the star-like effect.  (3) Try to shoot compositions with some foreground interest and with a good amount of depth.
Live oak and spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Live oak and Spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

 

  • Abstracts & Reflections:  I like shooting abstract reflections when it’s clear out.  This is when you allow water to slightly soften colorful elements, cropping in close to eliminate anything that potentially distracts from the abstract composition.  I love hiking desert canyons in mid-morning or late afternoon partly for this reason.
_MG_2939

White Canyon in Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  If you have some advice on making the best of bright sunny conditions, please let us all know in the comments below.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Clear weather forces you to get creative:  sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

Clear weather forces you to get creative: sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

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6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part II

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  1. Breathtaking and informative…thanks.

  2. Thank you for the info to be creative in bright light!

  3. AWESOME PHOTOS!

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