Don’t forget about the sky

I was leading a group of photographers a few weeks ago at one of my workshops, in the beautiful Braemar area of Aberdeenshire. We were discussing the river as it meandered around the gorgeous heather-clad hillside. Many of the group were chatting about filters or exposure settings and some were talking about using slow shutter speeds to try to capture the movement of the river as it flowed over rocks.

I listened to the chatter for a while before interrupting their conversations. I asked ‘haven’t you overlooked something wonderful that is about to happen?’ They just looked at me as though I had lost my marbles!

What the group hadn’t noticed was the sky. Behind us, from the west, a magnificent cloud formation was forming over the nearby mountains. The clouds looked very ‘angry’, more than likely bringing a little rain to the occasion.

Sky in a photograph is crucial to the emotional meaning of an image. The sky can either help or hinder the meaning of a picture. In landscape photography, the sky is about creating balance between the tonality of the sky and the foreground.

Of course, in everything related to photography, personal preference plays a big part. Some people like a picture that has a large chunk of white sky, but in my opinion, the best skies are those that add lighting, texture and tonality. Adding these elements create balance and interest, but it will also add drama. A bland sky with no tone often results in no interest.

Often, it is not possible to get a dramatic sky, because it is either too overcast or it is such a nice day that the sky is cloudless and blue. In these situations it is always better to minimise the amount of sky in the picture. On the other hand, if the sky has interesting cloud striations or the clouds are bearing storms, use this to advantage and include a large expanse of sky in the frame.

Moving the horizon in the picture will help to add interest depending on the weather and sky conditions. A simple rule to remember is: low sky interest, high horizon; dramatic sky, low horizon.

In conclusion, whenever taking pictures, always remember to look up!

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