3 Tips For Using the Sky in Smartphone Photos
Getting the sky to look good can be one of the trickiest things to do when taking pictures with a smartphone. Whether too light or too dark or too something, the sky doesn’t always play nice. I’ve spent a lot of time learning and practicing and here are a few things I pay attention to when it comes to getting the sky looking right:
1. Don’t white-out the sky with too much exposure
One of the most common mistakes I used to make was overexposing the sky. This usually happens when the photographer intends to brighten the foreground subject, and forgets to pay attention to what happens behind it. Avoid this mistake for two reasons: first, it just doesn’t look as good. Second, many common editing techniques are less impactful when the sky in your image has no data (i.e. it’s solid white). Below is an example of similar images I took. Which do you prefer?
Many times, when you take the photos, you’ll be tempted to overexpose the sky because if you don’t, everything else will be too dark. Resist this temptation (or take both photos)! You can always lighten a dark area later, but if the sky is completely white, you can’t add clouds and color back in.
2. Some clouds > no clouds
Perfectly blue skies can make for nice photos, but if you really want an interesting setting, wait until it’s partly cloudy. Clouds can give your image a more dramatic effect, and if you’re shooting a sunset, they provide something to reflect the sunlight. Check out this picture for an example of how clouds can enhance a photo.
3. Use your phone’s built-in HDR feature
High Dynamic Range, or HDR, refers to any setting that has both very light and very dark areas. Think of someone standing in the shade of a tree with a brightly lit, open field behind them. Since cameras can only handle one exposure level per shot, you have to choose between overexposing the background (too bright) or underexposing the foreground subjects (too dark and sillouette-like).
That’s where HDR settings come in. Most smartphones today have a built-in HDR setting that actually takes multiple images with different exposure levels simultaneously (actually, they are taken nearly simultaneously, so it’s important to keep your camera still). The images are then combined to keep only the best-exposed area in each image, resulting in one beautiful picture, if done correctly.
You can also use HDR settings to prevent the white sky problem discussed above.
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