Salvaging Your Blue Skies

1 Sep
Poetry of the Earth

Poetry of the Earth

Another photographer recently talked to me about his silly habit of taking camera gear with him wherever he goes, even if he knows the light is going to be harsh.  I think he expected me to agree with him, and tell him he really *should not* hike with that extra 15lbs of gear up a mountain.  Instead, I reminded him of Murphy’s Law.  If he didn’t hike with his gear, he would get to the top of the mountain, only to find a unicorn standing under a rainbow, in front of a (completely unforecasted) partial solar eclipse.

Now, don’t get me wrong, blue skies at mid-day are not ideal light to shoot in.  I’ll always prefer the diffuse light of sunrise and sunset, or the textured light of cloudy New England days.  But if I find myself somewhere epic, with only a small window to shoot, I’m going to make the best of the conditions I have.

So, how do we do that?  First, I’d invest in filters to help you tame unruly light.  Circular polarizers help to cut down on harsh glare, beef up blue skies and give foliage a lush feel in bad light.  A neutral density filter will help you decrease the amount of light entering the camera.  Graduated neutral density filters are particularly handy for modifying the harsh light of blazing, mid-day skies, while still keeping your foreground well-exposed.  (If you want a bit more information about this, check out our practical tips e-book!  You can get a copy in our store, or on itunes through the Light & Landscapes magazine…found in the Newstand app.)

I’d also be certain that if you have the option to shoot in RAW, you do so.  As long as your highlights aren’t clipped and your shadows aren’t crushed, you may have enough data to work with to recover some of the image’s detail.  Remember to keep an eye on your histogram as you shoot and adjust your camera’s settings to give you the best possible chance at a successful photograph.

Balanced Flow :: RI

Balanced Flow :: RI


If the shadows and highlights are just too severe, you may also consider converting the image to black and white.  Personally, I prefer a well exposed black and white with full tonal range…but if image detail can’t be salvaged, B&W can generally support high contrast images.


Most of the time, your best bet will be to shoot during good light, as it will have fewer tonal extremes and be easier to edit.  Sometimes though, some places just won’t allow you to shoot during the golden hours.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t let that stop you from capturing your “epic place” experience.  Play with your camera and filters.  You may not get any award winning shots that day….but then again…you might!

If you know anyone who might benefit from this article, share it! 🙂

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13 Responses to “Salvaging Your Blue Skies”

  1. mickey2travel September 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your great insight! I’m going to invest in some filters.

    • seeingspotsphoto September 1, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      I’d love to see what you come up with using the filters! 🙂

  2. THEJNSREPORT September 1, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for the tips. I actually found the B&W experience quite rewarding while editing some photos that I felt I couldn’t edit with the touch I would have liked especially with contrast. Definitely learning to love B&W photography as much as color.

    • seeingspotsphoto September 1, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      I loooovvvee black and white. I started out with b&w film years ago, and have always had a special place in my heart for it. 🙂

      • THEJNSREPORT September 1, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

        I’m just learning to really appreciate the power of a great B&W. Stay tuned I’ll be posting some of my latest B&W’s I’m experimenting with.

  3. Helen September 1, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    Great post … You forgot to mention though if you carry your camera, your tripod and filters are the mountain … you burn a heap load more calories than if you don’t … so you don’t need to fill as guilty having a yummy pudding or an ice cream after a fantastic climb.

    I am of the opinion, a photo of a memory is better than no photo… and by practicing in less good light, you know what you want to aim for when it is the perfect moment!

    • seeingspotsphoto September 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

      Hahaha I forgot about the ice cream! It’s the best part, really!

      And I agree, you can never get too much practice in. It’s part of the natural evolution of any photographer. 🙂

  4. Nelson September 2, 2015 at 12:29 am #

    A few weeks ago I was in park to take macro photos of flowers, usually I always bring my backpack with my 4 lens including my 70-300 mm except that time I left my backpack in car. Has I was taking photos of the flowers with my 85 mm macro, suddenly I see a Red-Tail, a first for me. I had plenty of time to take the photo but my telephoto was is my car. So I had to settle for a photo with my 85 mm macro, not the best of my life …. now I carry my backpack everywhere I go

    • seeingspotsphoto September 2, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

      Oh no! The photo that could have been! Lol I think we all have enough stories like that to agree with your decision 100%!

  5. TPJ September 2, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    I may look a little ‘strange’ …, an aging nerd, but my sling is with me and has all I need for those New England surprises.

    • seeingspotsphoto September 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

      It’s really the best way to go here in New England, where the weather changes every 5 minutes. Lol

  6. Megz September 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    I’m planning a few backcountry treks soon and have been trying to figure out a good way to carry my camera while hiking so I don’t have to constantly take off my backpack to drag it out and (most likely) miss the moment. Any suggestions?

    • seeingspotsphoto September 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

      They sell clips you can mount on your back pack strap, but of course your gear is exposed. A lot of hikers like that method, though, unless it’s bad weather or rough terrain. Another option is a sling or a bag with a side opening that you can reach without taking the whole thing off. Some camera hiking bags also open where they rest on your back, so you can leave your hip strap attached, rotate the bag around without taking it off, and get your gear. (Not great if you’re prone to lower back issues though!)

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