It is easy to assume that photographing in full sunshine offers the best photographic opportunities. After all, look at the many glossy brochures illustrating blue skies and it is easy to believe we should be taking most of our landscapes in full sunshine but, of course, that is a gross simplification. In fact I might suggest the reverse; it is more difficult to communicate a sense of ‘mood’ when shooting under a clear blue sky, although to ignore the opportunity entirely seems perverse.
So, how do you induce mood when shooting a landscape under a blue sky? I suspect 95% of photographs of landscape are taken under a blue sky and for good reason. We associate it with warmth and summer, and seeing such images promotes a sense of wellbeing (i.e. a positive/happy mood). There are practical considerations too; no cold to endure, no risk of buffeting winds, no possibility that our shots will be ruined by droplets of rain. It is hardly surprising then that the majority of photographs are taken in full sunshine.
Which subjects work best under a deep blue sky?
Blue, of course, is a primary colour. Therefore if you want to make best use of this, select a landscape that has colours that compliment blue. The opposite colour to blue is orange; what this means is that orange is the colour most unlike blue. Therefore if you want to achieve maximum contrast, photograph a landscape that sets blue against orange. This is, of course, why pictures of golden beaches are usually photographed under a blue sky; the visual contrast is immediate and appealing. There are countless other landscapes that can appear equally engaging. Whether they are coastal or in deserts, sand dunes appear fabulously dramatic when photographed under a blue sky and, on a similar tack, so does a golden field of wheat or a field of sunflowers. By understanding that contrasts work best when photographed in full sunshine, other related colours to orange, such as red and yellow can also be used to similar effect. So, for example, a field of red poppies also looks stunning under a blue sky.
1. When photographing under a blue sky point your camera away from the sun. As you look at the sky you will notice it appears much paler in the direction of the sun. Moreover, when facing the sun, the contrast between the sky and the foreground is too great. If that was not bad enough, you will also encounter flare.
2. Even if you are facing away from the sun, a blue sky can appear insipid if you photograph it in the middle of the day. The sky appears much richer when photographed early in the morning or during the late afternoon.
3. A filter you may consider using is a polarising filter. This has the effect of dramatically darkening a blue sky while subtly saturating the colours in the foreground. The effects can be especially attractive if you have a smattering of white clouds in the sky. These filters work best when the camera is pointed at 90 degrees to the sun, although you can experience problems when using a wide-angle lens as it can exaggerate the contrast between the areas nearest and furthest from the sun.
4. Be aware of the shadows that are created when photographing in full sunshine. While they can sometimes help a picture, on other occasions they can prove a distraction. Be aware that shadows shorten or lengthen depending on the time of day.
5. It may seem bizarre but, occasionally, it does help to use fill-in flash in strong sunlight. The contrast one experiences in full sunshine can sometimes leave certain parts of the image appearing to be too dark – for example, uprights often appear poorly illuminated relative to the sky. Using a small amount of fill-in flash is one way of overcoming this.
6. A question I am frequently asked is where to place the horizon? A safe bet is to place it on the thirds, although you can be more imaginative than that. If the sky reveals a beautiful cloud formation, and the horizon is flat and featureless, why not bring the horizon down as low as you can. As I have frequently suggested, sometimes the sky is so impressive it can serve as the subject in its own right.
Now it’s time to grab your camera and get outside!
All this and more is available in Tony’s book Photographing Landscape Whatever the Weather available now in paperback or as an ebook.
More photographic tips and advice will be appearing here so please come back and check regularly.