For a long time, I thought I was cursed as far as my landscape photography went. I felt as if every single time I went out with my camera, I would invariably be greeted with a gigantic sky filled with … nothing. No clouds. No atmosphere. Just blue.
To add insult to injury, the curse would play games with me. Throughout the entire drive to a particular landscape location, I’d see beautiful clouds with form and shape litter the sky. I’d get my hopes and my excitement levels up, anticipating all the photos I’d get. However, just as I’d park my Jeep and begin my hike out, the clouds would run away and hide.
This happened all the time and it seriously tested my resolve as a landscape photographer because I had always seen blue skies as the kiss of death for compositions. However, over time, I’ve come up with a few tricks that allow me to make the most out of this particularly common weather condition.
Get Rid Of The Color
I’ve always found it distracting in an image to have a predominantly blue sky, especially when there are no clouds to break things up. So, rather than figuring out how to work around the blue color, one solution is to eliminate it—and the rest of the colors in these photos—by applying a black-and-white treatment. By doing this, I could focus on the tones throughout my photo instead of the color and, if anything, the blue sky—once translated to black-and-white—actually helped things out.
Accentuate The Color
Naturally, if one direction involves removing color, the other direction would be to add more of it. At times, I’ll grab the Targeted Adjustment Tool in Adobe Lightroom CC and aggressively boost the saturation of the blues in my photo until it almost glows. This tip can be very hit-or-miss and is heavily dependent on the composition at hand. In my experience, it works best when the sky occupies a small portion of the frame and when it is juxtaposed against a warmer-toned subject.
Just Add Your Own Clouds
Easy, easy. Put down the pitchfork and torch. I know that sky swapping can be a very touchy subject for the purists out there, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with either masking in a different sky or adding clouds if it’ll make you more excited about your photos.
While manipulation of photos has no place in a journalistic setting, if you’re working on your photo to share it with friends or to make a more compelling print to hang on your wall, my philosophy is to go nuts. Have fun! As long as you’re transparent about your photo alterations, if blending in some clouds will make you that much more excited about a photo that’d otherwise never see the light of day, then enjoy.
See more of Brian Matiash’s work at matiash.com.