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How not to blow out the sky?

Scott Leake , May 04, 2008; 05:39 p.m.

I was out today taking some pictures, trying to learn not to blow out the sky. It was a partly cloudy day, in a park. I was using a Cokin P series 121M gradient ND filter. Seemed I was always blowing the sky.

What is the "basic" philosophy or technique to keep the sky from over powering? I'm reading and trying, but just not getting there yet.

Did I possibly need a darker filter (more stops)? Should have have stacked a regular ND with the gradient ND? My guess is that wouldn't help because the difference from the ground to the sky would have still been too far apart.

When you are shooting a landscape and want to capture the sky and clouds, how do you do it?

Without some detail and color in the sky, it really makes for a bland photo.




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Joshua Szulecki , May 04, 2008; 06:05 p.m.


To help everybody giving advice, could you post a sample of the image you are having a problem with, along with the relevant settings and filter information?

My guess is that you probably needed a stronger, or possibly differently edged, filter, but I'd like to see a sample. Using a sky with a lot of white as practice might not be fair to yourself. ;)

Andre Easter , May 04, 2008; 06:41 p.m.

Scott, other members might be better able to help you more if you told us what medium you were using. Were you shooting traditional B&W film in a classic Rolleiflex? Kodak color film in a Pentax k1000 or a Leica? Fuji 4x5? Polaroid? Is your favored camera a new Canikon Mega-pixel Marvel? With so many photographers now using so many different formats and media we cannot automatically assume one over the other. The answers made be determined by the type of tools you use.

Scott Leake , May 04, 2008; 07:48 p.m.

Gee, you can't read my mind? :)

Sorry, I should know better. Using a Nikon D300. 12 bit NEF. Cokin 121M filter. Using matrix metering.

Looking back through my photos, I realize I did a poor job of keeping track of which I used what filter with, so it is a little more difficult to tell. I was just trying to learn and had that "I have the filter, everything sould work". I'll go back over the pics and see if I can pull a couple. My guess is stronger filter.

Sorry for being brain dead tonight...


Let me see if I can post a couple for some input.

Eric A , May 04, 2008; 09:44 p.m.

This answer makes a couple of assumptions: one; that you're using a tripod, and two; that you have Photoshop or some other image editor that has layer capabilities.

Make two exposures. Meter one for the sky and one for the landscape. Don't mess with the focal length and usually don't mess with the f-stop.

Layer them in Photoshop.

This can be done in the camera too. The manual, which I don't have in front of me, has information on the settings.

Stephen Penland , May 05, 2008; 02:16 a.m.

Keep in mind that not all skies are created equal. A blue sky with some puffy cumulus clouds will blend nicely and naturally with the landscape if the sun is at your back, while a high overcast looking toward the sun will be many times lighter than the landscape (and therefore difficult to capture in a single shot). For those times when the sky is much lighter, you generally have four choices: 1) use an "appropriate" graduated neutral density filter, 2) take two exposures as Eric suggested, 3) process a single raw image at two different exposures, or 4) duplicate the image as a new layer, darken or lighten one layer, and use the gradient tool to bring the layers into proper balance. Wait, I forgot 5) HDR, in which the computer does #2 (preferably using more than two exposures).

Colin Carron , May 05, 2008; 03:35 a.m.

There are several options. One is to shoot in RAW or whatever the Nikon equivalent is then make two developments, one for foreground and the other for sky :

Then you can use an ND grad to bring the sky down - to my mind this tends to work better for cloudy skies..

Then you can take two sots at different exposures and combine them in PS..

The shot below is a combnation of two exposures :

combination of two exposyres in PS

Colin Carron , May 05, 2008; 03:38 a.m.

...and here is one using different RAW developments of the same frame.

two developments of the same RAW frame

Colin Carron , May 05, 2008; 03:42 a.m.

...and using ND grads + a bit of PS

ND grads + a bit f PS

Frank Uhlig , May 05, 2008; 11:28 a.m.

Colin's shots look so spectacularly nice.

But i have never seen scenes like these in my many decades on earth. They are not what I consider photography. They use harsh digital manipulations and are digital art, no doubt, and of high, good caliber there. A bit like the Kincaid "paint by numbers kitsch" found centered above couches in parts of Europe, just the stags with huge antlers are missing for that form of "Kunst". Yet they do not represent any form of photographic realism for which i aspire in my work. Others may aspire otherwise.

So if the poster wants to get into photography, he needs to show us his pics and let us see. If he aspires to get into digital art, he should do what Colin does so well.

There is a fork in the road here, poster. Beware.

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