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Photography Question 
Clayton T. Williams
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/16/2006

Blown-Out Sky: How to Prevent It

I took some family photos outside this past weekend and the sky should have been gorgeous. It was really blue with just a few white clouds in the sky. However, it didn't show up this way on the camera. When the family was exposed correctly the sky is blown out. How do you get beautiful exposure on subjects as well as the sky at the same time? I was shooting at about 6:00 in the evening so I don't know if this had anything to do with it.

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4/19/2010 10:06:20 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Hello Clayton,
The time of day has a lot to do with it. This is why many photographers prefer to shoot early am or late pm - to avoid direct overhead sunlight as it can be harsh and makes proper exposures much harder. The human eye is way smarter than a film slide or sensor. The human eye can see details in the dark areas and see details in light areas at the same time. The camera cannot, so we have a few techniques that assist with this shortcoming such as HDR imaging or using fill flash on the subject while exposing for the background but this doesn't always work either if the contrast is too great.
HDR enables us to photograph scenes that more closely resembles what we see in that you can underexpose to keep more color & detail in blown out areas and over-expose to allow more detail/color in the darker areas. I use PhotoMatix by HDRSoft and love this software for generating HDRs.
Hope this helps,

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4/20/2010 1:56:38 AM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Carlton's Gallery Editor's Pick   Silver Falls South Falls 1
Silver Falls South Falls 1
f/16, ISO100, 65mm, HDR & Tripod
© Carlton Ward
Canon EOS 5D Mark ...
Here is an example of a recent waterfall shot. The upper area was blown out and the lower area was very dark but using HDR, I was able to get a more "dynamic range" and when I combined the images, I got this image...

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4/20/2010 2:03:57 AM

Clayton T. Williams
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/16/2006
  Thanks Carlton,

I have been meaning to try some HDR and just haven't gotten around to it. however, HDR would be difficult with people in the photo esp families with small children that just won't stay still. Next time I will have to do it later in the evening or first thing in the morning. Thanks again for the info.

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4/20/2010 2:25:18 AM

Ken Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/11/2005
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  You can also use a graduated neutral density filter... it reduces exposure on the sky.

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4/20/2010 3:53:57 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Pose your subjects with the sun at your back.
The background may still over-expose a little but if you meter their sun-lit faces, the exposure setting will be closer to that of the distant blue sky.

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4/20/2010 11:39:29 AM

Bruce A. Dart   While posing groups with the sun at your back will bring the background into line with the exposure for the family, this is not a preferred method. "Front" lighting is a more "flat" lighting that gives less shape and form (to any subject)and for people -- looking directly toward the sun is a "squint" situation that produces less than flattering results. Several points about portraiture. Unless the location warrants including it, the sky isn't the important part of this image, the people are. Don't even include it unless it is absolutely necessary. Most portraits of people are more pleasing if you put the subjects in open shade. If you include brighter light, put it behind the people so they don't have to squint and use "fill flash" to soften the shadows. Most portraits, not all of course, but generally speaking are made with a 3:1 lighting ratio. That is, one F-stop difference between the main and fill lights. In this example, between the ambient sun and the fill flash. The back light gives nice separation as well as pleasing highlights on the hair and shoulders. Be very careful not to shoot directly into the sun, and of course to use a lens shade, or the flare will also blow out the image. Another general rule is to keep the subjects and background in the same kind of light. If the background is several stops brighter, the eye will go to the background not the subjects where it should. Unless you have an exceptional reason to include it, leave the sky to landscape images and not groups of people. As previously mentioned, working later in the day as the sun goes lower on the horizon will also give more pleasing light and a closer range between subject and background to work with. A tripod is also generally a must. Since the human eye goes to the area of greatest contrast, and that is often the lightest area, then you would be looking at the sky in this case instead of the family. Good portraits take more work than most people realize and take lots of practice.

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6/1/2010 10:05:17 AM

Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
  Hi Clayton, Many ways to skin a cat! Another choice would be to expose for the nice blue sky, which will not be blown out, BUT use a flash so that your people will not be a silhouette. Regards, Allen

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6/1/2010 10:56:22 AM

Susan K. Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/29/2010
  You can use a polarizer on the sky depending on the time of day. Or meter for the background, and fill your subjects with an outside the camera flash set an -1/3 of the exposure of the ambient lighting. That way you have the best of both worlds.

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6/1/2010 12:22:23 PM

Tim Dalton   If your camera has the ability to produce RAW files, most highlights that would normally be blown out in a jpeg will be recoverable. RAW files have much greater latitude than jpeg files.

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6/1/2010 8:08:35 PM

Robert D. Proctor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/4/2009
  Clayton, I just learned a new trick, if you are shooting RAW, double expose your image in photoshop ACR, one for the sky and one for the subject, open both in photoshop and blend the images together using layer masks.

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6/2/2010 3:02:47 AM

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