I love a beautiful sky in an image to add color and drama. There is nothing quite like the deep blues and lavenders, angry storm clouds, or a setting sun to create the mood and setting to tell a story.

The challenge we often run into is properly exposing the model or subject while still capturing the beauty of the sky. This is because in natural light, to properly expose the subject, one often needs to use wider f-stops or longer shutter speeds. The result tends to be an underexposed or blown out sky even if a reflector is used.

So if a beautiful sky is part of your vision for an image, you must properly expose the background and sky, and then use a strobe to light the subject. Here are a few hints:

If you like deep color saturation and color, use faster shutter speeds up to the maximum sync speed of your camera/flash combination. The faster the shutter speed the more underexposed (darker) the background and sky will become. Simply shoot some images at various shutter speeds until you find the one you like the best. Then set your flash power to expose your subject properly.

If the ambient light is incredibly bright and you have reached the maximum sync speed at the f-stop you have chosen for the depth of field you desired, you have several options in order to darken the sky. The first choice is to switch to a higher f-stop as long as the added depth of field does not wreck the image you want to create. If you can’t or don’t want to use a higher f-stop, one option is to use a neutral density filter on your lens. These ND filters come in various f-stop light reduction amounts and you can then darken the sky while still keeping the aperture and shutter speeds to your desired settings. The following image was shot at high noon in the Las Vegas desert:

beautiful sky

Do you like a sun that has a starburst effect? Make sure to use a higher f-stop. This image I created in Florence, Italy was shot this way (and with no star filter):

beautiful sky

Once you shoot the image to expose the sky properly, you can then adjust the sky in Photoshop to create whatever mood you want. I really enjoy this, as a great sky makes for a dramatic image.

But what if nature does not cooperate? What if you otherwise have a great image but there were no clouds or the sky was a dull gray? This is where having a library of sky images you have shot, or stock photos come in handy! Some will say it is cheating; however, I view the actual capturing of an image as just one part of the overall art of creating a great image. So if you have the skills to composite in a better sky, go for it!

In the following image, a tropical storm had sat over Pensacola, Florida for three days. So I shot the angry skies. The next day the storm left and the sky was void of any clouds. This was the day of the photoshoot. In my mind I wanted a dramatic sky to match her dress; so I composited the sky from the day before into the fashion image. It resulted in the following image I had created in my mind from the beginning:

beautiful sky

Experiment and play with it. That is the beauty of today’s digital world!