How to Avoid Overexposed Sky in Photography: 9 Simple Tips

overexposed sky in photography

Have you had a moment, where you look at your perfectly captured photo and the only thing that has ruined the image is the overexposed sky. That happens pretty often, isn’t it?

This is the kind of problem that has been there for years. Also for me, 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 how to have a nicely exposed photo with deep blue sky tones.


1. Shoot in RAW

If your camera is capable of shooting RAW image files, then it’s actually recommended to use it all the time. No matter if you are struggling 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 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, then unfortunately 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

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

Usually I shoot with aperture priority mode, but when lighting conditions are bad (low light photography or overexposed sky), then I take full control over my camera settings with manual mode.

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

If the recent settings weren’t enough then usually cameras have also built-in white balance. From there you can compensate white tones. For 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 simply fixed by increasing exposure on post-processing software.


3. Avoid the sun as a background

One of the greatest tips on how to avoid overexposed sky is simply not shooting against the sun. With a traditional camera and without any additional equipment on camera (filters) the sky would be all white. 

To avoid overexposed sky you need to pay attention to the angle of sunlight. Is it against you, sided, 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 either, 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 an overall subject exposure of the photo.

Helpful tip: Before starting a photoshoot, take a test photo. Pay attention to your background, how the exposure is, 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 in different times of day

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

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 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? 

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.

golden hour
The Golden Hour with golden colors

5. Use flash when shooting against sunlight

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

One way to deal with an overexposed sky is to use a flash. It will make a great effect when only shooting close objects. For example a certain detail or for portrait composition photography. It results with 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.

Simple reminder: Also check if you have the correct focus point. For example in portrait photography, when the focus point is accidentally set on the sky, then it will get a lot of attention (overexposed sky). Focusing on the right spot also means a bit darker subject (but correct sky tones). Don’t hesitate on 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 on different settings:

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

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

Keep in mind: When you take three separate images at a separate time, then you need to pay attention, 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 it’s been invited special equipment for that occasion – filters.

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

  • ND Filter – A solid black filter.
  • Graduated ND filter (soft) – from upper side goes gradually from 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)

These rectangular filters will leave you room in adjusting exposure on the places you want. That explains why some filters have a clear (non-filtered) bottom side and darker upper side. That way you darken upper sky tones, but leave foreground tones the same. In result you will get a nicely exposed photo.


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

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

Simply because the sky is the brightest part in the photo and due to that it results with 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, for example cloudy and gray. My point is that when shooting a certain detail or portrait, then you can get a much better backlit to the image, simply not adding an overexposed sky. 

photo without a sky

9. How to fix overexposed sky photos in Lightroom

Well 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 on 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 overexposed sky use some of them:

  • Exposure – Easiest way to adjust overall exposure level. 
  • Highlights – For overexposed sky, turn highlights a bit down. With that you will see more details in blown out areas.
  • Whites – Turn bright white tones a bit down to compensate overall looks.
  • Shadows – Brightens up darker spots.
  • Radial Gradients – Use radial tools to adjust certain 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 on 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?

Time to time there will be some photos that have an overexposed sky. It still also happens with professionals. But taking into account and keeping in mind these photography tips will significantly reduce the amount of overexposed photography images. Because, now you know where to put your attention, when being in the middle of a photoshoot. 

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 photo on editing software
shooting a sky

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