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Overexposed sky

How to Avoid Overexposed Sky in Photography: 9 Simple Tips

    Have you had a moment where you looked at your perfectly captured photo, and the only thing that has ruined the image is the overexposed sky? That happens pretty often.

    This is the kind of problem that has been there for years. Also, at the beginning of my photography days, I understood that it should be one of the first photography skills to learn

    A lot of hassle can be fixed if you know and pay attention to some simple photography tips. From this article on how to avoid overexposed sky, I will share some tips on having a nicely exposed photo with deep blue sky tones.

    1. Shoot in RAW

    If your camera can shoot RAW image files, then it’s recommended to use it all the time. No matter if you struggle with overexposed sky or shooting with normal lighting conditions. RAW files contain about three times more information than traditional JPEG files. 

    The need for the advanced file will be seen in editing software. Due to then, you have more freedom and opportunities to tune your images. 

    Keep in mind: Post-processing software doesn’t fix all the shortcomings. If you have a harshly overexposed sky, there isn’t much room for fixing the image. Because of that, it is better to know how to avoid it when taking photos.

    2. Use manual settings

    Exposure can be controlled in your camera through three main pillars: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. They work together, and every change of each pillar will affect your image exposure level. Best way to explain that is through the exposure triangle.

    exposure triangle
    Exposure triangle

    There you can see how these pillars work together. So you need to adjust them accordingly to your surrounding background.

    Usually, I shoot with aperture priority mode. Still, I set my camera on manual mode when lighting conditions are bad (low light photography or overexposed sky).

    You will get fewer exposed photos if you keep your ISO down, set a faster shutter speed, and decrease the aperture (higher f-stop value). After all these settings, the image sharpness is also better.

    Cameras usually have a built-in white balance if the recent settings weren’t enough. From there, you can compensate for white tones. For an overexposed sky, you need to lower whites.

    Keep in mind: It’s better to have a bit underexposed than an overexposed photo. Because in photo editing programs, it is better to fix underexposed photos. Also, the overall quality is better. So when your pictures are too dark, then no worries. It’s fixed by increasing exposure on post-processing software.

    3. Avoid the sun as a background

    One of the greatest tips for avoiding overexposed sky is not shooting against the sun. The sky would be all white with a traditional camera and without any additional equipment on the camera (filters). 

    To avoid overexposed sky, you need to pay attention to the angle of sunlight. Is it against your sides or at your back? As said, try to avoid the sun in front of you. Even when the sunlight is from one side, then the same side of the photo has an overexposed sky, and the other side has normal blue tones. It doesn’t look good unless you want to cut one side away.

    The best tip would be to keep the sun at your back, if possible. Then you can have nice blue sky tones. It’s better to adjust the foreground and the overall subject exposure of the photo.

    Helpful tip: Before starting a photoshoot, take a test photo. Pay attention to your background, exposure, and so on. It’s the simplest way to avoid outrage at home when you detect an overexposed sky in the background after a long photoshoot.

    4. Try to shoot at different times of day

    As you know, the sun is not at the same angle all day. It rises up from the east and sets on the west. That’s one thing to keep in mind. So when your subject is aligned with the sun, shoot your dream subject another time of the day. 

    Another thing to know is that the sun is brighter when it’s higher around noon time. That means in photography, there is more light that enters your camera. Which means there are bigger chances of the overexposed sky. In professional photography, you will need extra external equipment to soften whites when shooting directly under the sun. 

    When it’s the best time to shoot? 

    golden hour
    The Golden Hour with golden colors

    It’s about 2-3 hours right after sunrise or before sunset. Then the sunlight is less bright. There is even a term for that – golden hour. It’s specifically about one hour after sunrise or before sunset. This explains how it’s possible to shoot sunrise or sunset without getting an overexposed sky.

    5. Use the flash when shooting against sunlight

    It’s not always possible to avoid sunlight. For example, there could be specific moments when you don’t shoot it now and will miss it forever. 

    One way to deal with an overexposed sky is to use a flash. It will have a great effect when only shooting close objects. For example, a certain detail or portrait composition photography. It results in natural blue sky tones and softly illuminated subjects.

    But note that it wouldn’t work with landscape photography due the flash won’t reach far objects.

    A simple reminder: Check if you have the correct focus point. For example in portrait photography, when the focus point is accidentally set on the sky, it will get a lot of attention (overexposed sky). Focusing on the right spot also means a darker subject (but correct sky tones). Don’t hesitate about that because it’s again an easy fix in editing software.

    6. Merge multiple photos together

    It’s a more advanced way to fix overexposed sky, but it would be useful if you really need to shoot in overexposed photography conditions. The simplest way to make it work is to take three photos in different settings:

    • Underexposed capture: having the correct details of the sky when everything else is dark.
    • Nicely exposed capture: the sky is blown out, but the main details are in the right balance.
    • Overexposed capture: to reveal details from the darkest objects.

    After that, you can merge all these three images together with post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. As a result, you get a nicely exposed photo with the deep blue sky tones and the details from the foreground.

    Keep in mind: When you take three images at a separate time, you need to pay attention, so that you don’t have moving subjects on captured images. So the best fit for merging photos is when for example, capturing a non-moving landscape.

    7. Use neutral density filters

    Overexposed skies have been one of the major problems since the beginning of photography. Overexposure appears mostly during the summer photography sessions, and due to that, special equipment for that occasion has been invited – filters.

    How can filters give affect your images? These work like sunglasses, which also aim to soften brighter tones. One of the widely used ones is neutral density filters (ND filters):

    • ND Filter – A solid black filter.
    • Graduated ND filter (soft) – from the upper side gradually turns dark to clear.
    • Graduated ND filter (hard) – upper side dark, lower clear.
    • Reverse ND filter – from the center gradually clears from dark to clear
    neutral density filter
    A typical Graduated ND filter (hard)

    Check out different ND filters from Amazon!

    These rectangular filters will allow you to adjust exposure in your desired places. That explains why some filters have a clear (non-filtered) bottom side and a darker upper side. That way, you darken upper sky tones but leave foreground tones the same. As a result, you will get a nicely exposed photo.

    8. Additional Tip: Don’t include the sky in your photo

    photo without a sky
    Pro tip: Don’t include the sky in your photo

    That might be a bit of an odd suggestion to avoid especially overexposed skies in photos. But it’s not a rule in photography to always include a sky as the background. You can shoot in different angles and places without the sky being in the image.

    Simply because the sky is the brightest part of the photo, and due to that, it results in darker elements in the foreground. You can adjust darker elements with camera settings or editing, but it takes additional time, effort, and skills.

    Sky isn’t always perfect, and it could be cloudy and gray. My point is that when shooting a certain detail or portrait, you can get a much better backlit to the image, simply not adding an overexposed sky. 

    9. How to fix overexposed sky photos in Lightroom

    As they say, this is where the magic starts to happen. One of the first things in photo editing is to fix the main shortcomings of the capture. Like getting the right exposure and white balance. One of the main post-processing software is Adobe Lightroom. There are a lot of sliders, but for the overexposed sky, use some of them:

    • Exposure – The easiest way to adjust the overall exposure level. 
    • Highlights – For the overexposed sky, turn highlights a bit down. With that, you will see more details in blown-out areas.
    • Whites – Turn bright white tones down to compensate for overall looks.
    • Shadows – Brightens up darker spots.
    • Radial Gradients – Use radial tools to adjust specific points in the photo. For example, you can make changes only with the sky, leaving everything else untouched. 

    There is always a way to make significant changes to the sky with, for example, Adobe Photoshop. Where you can change the whole skyline, but it takes more skills, effort, and time. 

    What to keep in mind?

    From time to time, there will be some photos that have an overexposed sky. It still also happens with professionals. But keeping in mind, these photography tips will significantly reduce the number of overexposed photography images. Because now you know where to focus when in the middle of a photoshoot. 

    Here is a little checklist to keep in mind on your next shooting: 

    • Shoot in RAW
    • Set camera settings manually
    • Check for the sunlight angle
    • It’s better to shoot when the sun is lower
    • You can merge separate photos into one
    • If possible, then use filters
    • Correct underexposed photos on editing software
    shooting a sky

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