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Image of the Day: Tuesday August 26th August 26, 2008

Posted by Team SnapVillage in image of the day, snapvillage.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Image: 43-00514255
Contributor: Michael Svoboda            

Why we like it:  In this retro-cool suburban skateboarding shot, Michael Svoboda uses a tilted low-angle view and motion blur to show off the rolling stock. Vintage tube socks and sneakers seal the deal for this inspired image.

The low-angle view helps to fill the frame with visual interest – and reduces the amount of the potentially distracting bright white sky that is visible.

Shooting under overcast skies can be a challenge (especially for us here in the Pacific Northwest as we get these days all too often). What looks like a textured grey sky to our eyes is usually rendered as an expanse of over-exposed white when captured with a camera. This is because the overcast sky is actually brighter to the camera’s light meter than a sunny blue sky. With a few exceptions – most cameras simply cannot capture the very wide range of tones presented under cloudy skies. You must choose whether you want a correct exposure of the sky, or a correct exposure of your subjects and scene on the ground.

Despite this, you certainly don’t want to let a cloudy day keep you from giving your camera a workout. Shooting on an overcast day can be fantastic as the light falls softly and evenly.

The main point on working under an overcast sky:  reduce the amount of sky visible in your compositions.

Here are 3 tips to help avoid the effects of blown-out overcast skies:

  • Change the camera angle or shooting position:
    • Try to keep the horizon high in the frame to reduce the amount of sky visible
    • Consider tilting your camera further reduce the expanse of sky visible in the frame
  • Fill the frame:
    • Shoot subjects against backdrops that mask as much of the sky as you can find. Buildings or tall vegetation are probably handy – use them as compositional elements!
  • Try shooting macros or portraits instead of wide-angle scenery:
    • Close-ups of flower, insects or small objects aren’t going to include any sky at all – and the soft light from the overcast sky looks great! The lack of shadows will really help.
    • Overcast days are great for portraits – in fact, many portrait photographers prefer shooting on an overcast day to a sunny one: just make sure to watch the amount of sky you include around the subject(s), as the bright white can be distracting.


Sometimes you might not be able to adjust your camera position, or you might even want to use the overcast sky to your advantage. 

Here are 4 tips for capturing a great exposure with an overcast sky present in the frame:

  • Use high-powered strobes and underexpose the sky:
    • Underexpose the scene and increase the output of your strobes. In this way the sky will be underexposed and rendered as moody dark grey or blue, while you subject will be properly exposed by the light your strobe.
    • This can be done with shoe-mount flashes, (as long as you can manually increase the strength of the flash output) but you’re likely to get a better effect with strobes as they are much more powerful.
    • To get the correct effect – you’ll need to control both aperture and shutter (in addition to your strobe/flash output): changing the aperture will control the flash exposure, while altering the shutter speed will give you control over the ambient exposure. You’ll probably need to use a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second or faster in order to get enough of an underexposure on the clouds.
  • Use a graduated neutral density filter:
    • A graduated neutral density filter or (ND filter) can help block some of the too-bright light reaching the camera from the sky.
    • Graduated ND filters from Cokin or Singh-Ray can be adjusted to mask as much of the sky, and little of the ground.
      • If necessary, tilt the filter so that it covers the brightest portion of sky.
    • Filter effects in Photoshop can mimic the ND filter effect – but you’re almost always better off trying to get your shot right in camera.
  • Bracket and merge in post-processing (HDR):
    • This really only works well for static subjects, but if you take several shots of the same scene with different exposures (one exposed for the shadows, one for mid-tones, and one for highlights) and then merge in Photoshop – you can capture a greater range of the tones in an image – similar to how our eyes perceive a scene.
    • Use a tripod, and keep your bracketed shots 1-2 stops apart.
    • Tools like Photoshop’s built-in HDR merge and 3rd party add-ins like Photomatix can help with the dirty work.
    • Be careful: HDR effects are powerful and increasingly popular, but HDR effects can easily be overused and become distracting if you’re not a bit wary.
  • Shoot RAW:
    • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: shooting in your cameras RAW mode will give you the most post-processing flexibility and lets your camera capture the broadest range of tones it’s sensor will allow. Unlike JPEG, with a RAW capture you’ll likely find that you can recover a bit of the blown-out exposure in the sky.
    • Another advantage of shooting RAW: You can perform 2 (or more) RAW conversions of a single capture – one for the highlights, and one for the shadows – and then merge these like any other HDR shots.


Have other tips on shooting under overcast skies?  Why not add ‘em to the comments!


– Brian



1. Henrik - August 27, 2008

You can feel the motion in this shot! Nice work! These are also some very helpful tips!

2. Joe - August 27, 2008

Cool shot!

I keep a Cokin grad. ND filter with me. That plus some post-proc and i’m usually OK.

3. sarah - August 27, 2008

awesome tips, thanks brian!! is there somewhere i can go to see all of the tips you’ve posted so far?

4. Team SnapVillage - August 27, 2008

Actually, yes! I’m working on pulling all of my tips together into one reference page. Should be up in a few days.

I’ll keep you posted.

– Brian

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