Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Photographer's Sky

It turned out as the most expensive single photograph I've ever taken. Seems in my haste to get to my shooting location I managed to zip through a speed trap and yes I did receive a ticket, over $200 worth of speeding ticket. I wasn't happy to say the least, but in spite of this setback I managed to arrive at my intended location and was greeted with one of the best Photographer's Skies I've ever captured.

Landscape photography encompasses such a wide range of techniques and venues it is all but impossible to write about them all. But, there is one element that seems to apply to almost every aspect of this form of photography...that would be a great sky.


What is a Photographer's Sky? Well, simply stated, it is where the sky becomes an integral part of the composition, so much so, it becomes the most important element of the entire image. A great sky is key to most landscape photography. Without it, most images will look lifeless and flat, almost always bland, and lacking character. I'm not always speaking about sunset or sunrise. While those two times can generate some amazing looks, some of the best skies occur in the middle of the day. The old axiom of always shooting during the early or late hour of the day does not always have to become locked down. You can shoot all day long, it is just a matter of how you use the light and available conditions. In fact great skies can occur at any time of the day. The only bad skies in my opinion are those 'hazy white sky' conditions where there is no texture at all, but even those kinds of skies have their value in certain situations.


Okay, so, what makes a great Photographers Sky? That can be defined by one word; Texture. Texture is provided by clouds, all kinds of clouds, dark ominous ones, fluffy white ones, whispy ones, bright ones, simple and complex ones...I could go on, but the point is for the most part, clouds make the sky. Sometimes a completely blank sky can become a powerful visual element. It all depends on how you use it and the compositional techniques applied around it. A dark smooth texture can be just as appealing as one with a great deal of movement associated with it.


Kentucky has some amazing skies, but finding a Big Sky situation here can be a challenge, but not impossible. It requires an unobstructed view of the horizon, which in Kentucky is not always possible. Places out west are more condusive to the big sky element. That is why I love to photograph Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie where you can still find horizon to horizon of unobstructed vista's of prairie grasslands.


Capturing a photographer's sky is not always easy to do. In most cases you will need to employ a good polarizer filter. This will help to darken a blue sky and help to bring out texture in the clouds by eliminating or reducing hot spot glare. You also must have some kind of connection to the foreground to provide a point of reference, something that places the moment into context.


To me the best skies are the ones where its elements provide a full range of textures from dark shadows to whispy whites and where some clear portions are visable as well. I especially savor those moments when dark ominois skies are begining to break apart and you can see a wide range of dark and light interspaced between the various levels of the cloud formations.


A great Photographer's Sky is one that translates well into black and white. Sometimes a sky will look promising in color, but when transformed to B&W it takes on a whole new expression. That is where a good polarizer is essential because it allows for the sky to be transformed into an almost black sky which can create a dramatic Ansel Adams look.


The photographers sky...its one of the most important elements I seek out when searching for that great landscape photograph.

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