Shooting with an empty sky
A lot of photographers have asked themselves at least once in their photography careers about shooting with an empty sky, with a blue sky with no clouds and having nothing interesting, especially those who are doing landscape photography had this dilemma and they are probably still having it.
I found that there are many ways to tackle this issue in the field, especially, even if, for some, an empty sky is a great enemy when shooting because it’s dull, boring, and it doesn’t tell much. It has so much negative space that tells nothing, really, except the fact that it was a beautiful day outside :) . So here are some things that I practiced during my trip to Rasnov Medieval Citadel and Bran Castle in our country:
1. You can use light to your advantage.
Who’s to say that if you have an empty sky outside you can’t shoot outdoors? That’s out of the question. Yes, you can shoot using the ambient light to your advantage if you are clever enough to work some shots in order to get some interesting results. The images you make can be different, unique and also quite powerful in their message.
I went with a few friends and I was a little bit unfortunate, so to speak, to have a clear blue sky, for I was expecting to shoot some beautiful landscape and architectural photos for my collection with an interesting sky that could have been full of dramatic clouds and so on. I was expecting the sky to be partly cloudy that day. It wasn’t that way actually.
So, I had some changes in the initial plans which reminded me to always be opened for new and interesting opportunities. A clever photographer always finds ways to shoot and get great results. I shot a few portraits of my friends and I really used the great powerful light of the sun to give me a high-key look to the images I made.
So, light, although is generally very important in photography, in these high-key situations is extremely important. High-key images have this strong light component that one may say that overexposes the images, and so they do but with a purpose. I also made them in black and white to balance the tones of the “blown out” highlights of the sun. :)
2. Shoot indoors.
I would also like to mention that you can shoot indoors too and make interesting images. This could be one of the easiest way to approach your shooting when there’s a clear blue sky outside. I mean, why bother to go outdoors and shoot when you can stay inside, shoot some interiors or some still life etc.? Well, it depends. It is a way, no doubt, but it’s only depending on where you’re going. If you’re a nature and landscape shooter, of course, you choose outdoors, in nature and so on. But if you have a wide variety of photography to do, say you’re doing travel photography, you might as well try some indoors too. Maybe you would visit a castle, a fortress, a museum, a cathedral etc. Who knows? You have lots of options.
When I was climbing a spiral staircase to the upper levels of Bran Castle, I noticed these interesting shapes that the staircase had and the beautiful light coming from outside the windows so I couldn’t resist and I made a shot.
It’s all about the shapes and their relations with the ambient light.
I transformed the images in black and white because I didn’t see any use for the colours. Stripping them down to simple, yet complex, monochrome tonalities gave them a much more interesting, sober, special kind of look revealing the pure purposes of the photographs. I didn’t want to complicate the images too much but also add strong contrasting tonalities to convey strong emotions as well. :)
Or you can continue this way, with the strong contrasts and make some low-key images, this time. Actually, what is low-key? They’re images with very low shadow contrasts, much darker then normal but not underexposed images. So, wait a minute? If you can shoot outdoors high-key photos using the light of the sun as a compositional element and blowing its highlights to the top, you mean you can shoot exactly the opposite indoors and burning the shadowy areas of the images all the way down? You could ask. Of course! There is a low light situation indoors and so, you can exploit the contrasts of the underexposed parts of the images. Of course, you can make them in black and white as well, for a stronger message. It’s also about the differences between strong light and strong shadows. I love strong contrasts! :)
You can keep the light coming from the window to a maximum to show how strong it is and to convey the message of strong outside harsh light, but balance the tonalities indoors to portray where you are and to show a much lower light. I know, it’s paradoxical but that’s how it was. The light was stronger on the outside, but weaker on the inside, but still, inviting to conversate even on mere, mundane subjects either one pick. :) Don’t be affraid to make significant images! Listen to your heart, to what you feel, to what you have to say.
Homes in the country can be very cozy. It’s always the natural elements of stone and wood that make you feel like home. It’s something that has a substance and you cannot replace it with anything synthetic or artificially made, even if its colours are exquisitely beautiful and it takes your eyes. The craftsmanship of wood carvers and handmade furniture makers of old is still to be appreciate even today. Many collectors today are looking for these kind of things not only for their prices, but also for their true significance. It’s always a great thing if it is made by hand, by someone who put their heart and soul into the work. That is the substance that resides within what they make and you can truly feel their soul in their work. ;)
Again, using only the basic black and white tonalities you can show the strength of the graphical elements within a photograph, keeping details both in highlights as well as in the shadows. You can correct it in post to your liking.
You can also choose to shoot iconic images of the castle’s interiors, beautiful composition within the walls, with furniture, artistic decorations, paintings on the walls etc., or you can choose to make some other kind of significant images with which to tell special stories in an epic, dramatic or poetic fashion, or in a philosophical way. It is your call.
The following two images show exactly what I mean:
If the first one is not really significant, being just an interior photo extravagantly processed depicting two armchairs in the livingroom, in the second one I made use of a metaphor for the message. Apparently, they’re just simple images, but looking into them we can find some significance, especially according with how we interpret them.
3. Try some bokeh.
Many photographers are really enamored with the bokeh, and some hate it, make fun of it or don’t really know what it means.
But when you go outdoors again you can make images with beautiful light bokeh. Sure, the images will be very busy graphically but not ugly, in fact they could be quite exquisite and attractive. :)
Still at the Bran Castle. We went outside, in the patio, the inner garden, and there was a wishing well there where many people threw coins and made some wishes they wanted to have fulfilled. I don’t know how many of them had their wishes fulfilled but I thought I try something with the cross above the well. I saw that there could be a very interesting, yet busy background for the image but it mattered not for me. I’m just in love with natural light bokeh. I don’t know, it’s really special to me. :)
Again, I leave the free interpretation to everyone to grant any significance one wants. It could be a symbol, the starting point of a film scene, or it could also be an idea, a metaphor, you name it. :)
4. Intelligently fill the negative space.
And now we are back to talking about landscape photography, the main dilemma. Landscape photographers, nowadays, are quite horrified of the clear blue sky in their photos. They consider the shooting a failure if it is only a clear sky outside, with nothing happening, not even a bird flying by. :)
But anyways, you can’t control the weather of the world so how do you face this problem and how can you shoot some interesting landscape photos even if you have a clear blue sky?
So I was at the Bran Castle and did not shoot the castle so far. I made no images with the castle by then. I had to do it. I felt obligated to do so, even if just for my collection of photos with places I visited.
We left the castle’s courtyard and I was looking for an interesting angle to shoot it. I saw that this castle has been photographed to death :D . Every tourist who visits it makes iconic photos of the castle to show their friends that they’ve been there and so on. Even amateur and professional photographers are faced with the same issue: making iconic images with the castle. Nothing wrong with this but if one wants to practice serious photography what does he or she have to do in this situation?
So I found an interesting angle and my friends actually asked me to photograph it. I made an interesting vertical showing what I felt in that particular moment. I, too, long for beautiful past memories, the glorious moments in our history to come back to us. We are all waiting for this.
I made two versions of it: a duochrome one, and a coloured version.
Each tell the two parts of the story, the past story and the present story.
If many are making iconic images of this place, you can try something else, something unique and original. It depends, mainly, on how you feel it should be done. ;)
So, you can fill the negative space according to your needs. You don’t have to fill the entire negative space of the clear sky, you can leave some. After all, it has a role in the image. It is not out of context.
You can try to bring closer some elements that are complimenting the subject, or you can exagerate some graphical elements to add drama and uniqueness to the image. It all depends on you, on what your inner voice has to say.
In conclusion, I’d say that you just have to keep practicing your photography no matter how the weather is outside or where you’re going. There’s always some interesting photos to make. Keep a sharp eye and your photo gear with you! ;)
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