Archive for the ‘cloudless’ Tag

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.
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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.

Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part I   8 comments

In the land of the Ancient Ones: Four Corners area, desert southwest U.S.

Clear skies:  a landscape photographer’s nightmare.  Okay, maybe that’s being a bit too melodramatic.  But cloudless conditions are a kind of obstacle related to light.  You can find a general discussion of light, as important obstacle to overcome, in a recent post.  I’ve been doing a whole series of posts on Friday Foto Talk dealing with obstacles, so check them out if you have a moment.

Although landscape photography is where we most miss clouds, nature, sports, macro and portrait shooting are all potentially more challenging under clear skies.  Here are the main issues that can cause problems:

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

  • Harsh Contrast:  Bright sunshine causes big differences between areas that are brightly lit and those lying in shadows.  Besides the obvious problem of finding the right exposure, these bright and shadowed areas are typically separated by sharp lines, creating a scene which lacks any  softness.  This tends to be unpleasing to the eye.
  • Flat Light:  Hazy sunshine is the worst, but light can grow flat under other weather conditions as well.  You know this kind of light: despite the fact contrast is not as harsh as with perfectly clear sunshine, there is really no depth to the light.  Foreground objects appear to recede into the hazy background and distant objects may not be discernible enough to add depth to your images.
  • Cool Light:  By cool I mean blue, even though you scientist-types will object, quite reasonably, that blue light is actually at a higher temperature than red or orange light.  Bright and blue light is generally less attractive than somewhat dimmer and redder light.
  • Golden Hour Blues:  When skies are clear, sunrise and sunset are, like the shadows which characterize mid-day, abrupt, sharp and relatively unpleasing to the eye.  Dawn can pass without much color at all.  And sunset is a short, unspectacular affair, where the sun sinks to the horizon surrounded by an ocean of blue.
A simple unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

An unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah's Grand Gulch wilderness.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah’s Grand Gulch wilderness.

 

On my journey west, ever since crossing the Great Plains, dry and sunny conditions have prevailed.  The American West is in the midst of a long-term drying trend, exacerbated by global warming.  On previous trips I’ve had the luxury of being able to hang out and wait for a front (or at least a few clouds) to come along.  But on this trip I’ve been forced to take what I can get, just like an average amateur photographer on vacation.

Unlike many photographers who drop into a low-grade sulk when confronted by clear blue skies, I can still enjoy this kind of weather.  Also, I don’t want to be thought of as some sort of disturbed, gothic creature, unhappy unless things are dim and gloomy.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

But a big part of the reason I don’t mind (so much) when clouds are a no-show is that I still enjoy capturing images at these times.  True, there end up being fewer “Wow, stunning!” landscapes.  But I actually like photographing within limits, trying to come up with something good when conditions are unfavorable.  I think it forces creativity and makes me a better photographer in the long run.  Or this is what I tell myself.

There are two main ways to mitigate the effects of clear sunny weather when you’re traveling and photographing.  One is to shift focus to other subjects, and the other is to shoot in different ways.  In the 2nd and final part, I’ll cover some of the ways I get good pictures when the sky is cloudless and blue.  Have an awesome weekend!

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

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