How to Capture Awesome Skies in Your Photography

Photography Session Tips

family sky

Why the Sky is Hard to Capture

If you've ever tried to capture the sky with subjects in the foreground, you'll notice two contradictions: 1. The sky is extremely bright 2. Your subjects are dark in comparison So if you try to expose your picture to make your subjects' faces bright enough, you're sky becomes blown out (or overexposed) and you can't see any of the detail. But when you lower your exposure to darken up the sky, you find that your subjects are now too dark.

Video #1: Understanding Exposure

Getting your subject and the sky to match up can be hit and miss depending on the day, but understanding exposure will help you capture them both.

(skip to the next video if you already understand exposure!)

How to Get an Awesome Sky While Keeping a Well-lit Subject

1. Shoot on a Cloudy Day

With clouds diffusing the sunlight, your sky is darker, and much closer to the exposure you need for your subjects. The sunlight is also less direct, so you can face your subjects toward the sun, lighting them up naturally without getting any harsh shadows.

2. Face Your Subjects toward the Sun

This not only lights them up better, but you're also getting the darker side of the sky behind them which means it's closer to the exposure of your subject and won't become overexposed in order to get them lit up properly. military bride cloudy sky

3. Sunset is Best

If you're not able to shoot on a cloudy day, start your portrait session 20 minutes before sunset so the sun will be more diffused by the atmosphere and less harsh on the face. After the sun sets and the sky starts changing colors, you'll also be able to get great silhouettes by turning your camera toward the sunset.

Video #2: How to Capture Awesome Skies

Checkout these other awesome sky tutorials:

1. How to Enhance the Sky in Your Photography with Photoshop 2. How to Add a Killer Sky to Your Picture with Photoshop You might also like this tutorial for creating two exposures with one raw file and overlapping them in photoshop to create an HDR image at sunset without using flash! before-and-after Check out our Photoshop Tutorials for Portrait Photography from our store!

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  • Paul on

    What a surprise. The last time I visited your site I found it hard to search around, but this time it is all really wel organized. congrats on that. There is enough inspiration here to change my whole photography style. Thanks so much.

  • Dawn Latour on

    I love all the information you give. I am just getting ready to start a photography business in the next few months so this information is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge.

  • on

    Cloudy days are awesome :) I guess the only time I face my subjects toward the sun is when it’s covered by clouds. If you’ve got your subject in the shade, looking out toward the sun gives them a nice catch light in their eyes too! Or having them face away from the sun is a good time to send them a reflection of it’s light with one of your diffusers; they don’t have to squint as much and the light is more even. Thanks for all the great comments!

  • Kevin on

    This is something I am really working on right now. Thanks for the multiple tips to help others understand that there is no single solution to getting a properly exposed subject and sky in one shot. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so cloudy days are abundant here. :)

    I do have an additional comment on the second point. If your subjects are facing the sun, they are likely to have very unnatural facial expressions by squinting because of the brightness of the sun. Do you have any tips on addressing this? I have a couple of ideas, such as placing your subject(s) in a shaded area or possibly using a diffusion panel (which might only work for head shots). Thanks again!

  • Tanya on

    Love this tutorial. There are times I have had to layer clouds in my work and this is so much simpler – Thank You!

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