Photography Tips: How To Photograph the Sky

When it comes to outdoor photography tips, most people only think about photographing objects. However, the sky itself can be the subject of a photograph. While large expanses of dead sky in the middle of the day may not make for an interesting shot, there are other times of the day and night that allow you to get creative and potentially capture amazing sky photographs. For this, you'll just need some basic photography equipment, including a digital SLR camera, a tripod and some filters. So, here are some tips on how to photograph the sky.

Step 1: Pick the Time of Day

First of all, you need to figure out the time of day in which you are most interested. Generally, the major three are sunrise, sunset and the night sky. Sunset and sunrise offer the opportunities to photograph interesting cloud formations and the multicolored show of the sun rising and setting. The night sky, on the other hand, allows you to photograph star trails, moon shots and meteor showers.

Step 2: Gather up Your Equipment

For all of these types of shots, you don't need to purchase extremely expensive equipment. A standard digital SLR with the ability to manipulate the focus, and with features such as time exposure, is perfectly fine. Other equipment that you may want to invest in includes a light meter, tripod, wide angle and telephoto lenses, and filters.

A light meter will help with low-light day situations. You can test to see how much light that you need so that you can adjust the ISO of your camera or determine which type of filter will work best for that particular light situation.

The tripod will be a must for time exposure since you won't be able to hold your camera for that long. Filters will not only help darken bright scenes if they occur, but they will also help bring out many of the colors in sunrise and sunset photos. You should, however, do some experiments with polarizing filters to figure out which will give you the desired effect.

The lenses will be important for all types of shots. For sweeping sky scenes, you want to get as much of the sky in the picture as possible, meaning you'll want to use the wide angle lens. The same thing will go for sunrise or sunset pictures if you want to add the clouds or a bit of the landscape into the shot. 

If you want, however, to strictly focus on a particular object, i.e. Venus in the night sky or the sun right below the horizon, you need the telephoto. You'll want to zoom into the object so that it fills the frame. Experimentation is going to be key if you've never taken any of these shots before. So, experiment with your focal lengths.

Step 3: Pick Your Setting

Always scope out your setting beforehand. Look for vantage points that will give you sweeping vistas and a wide shooting spot. For example, if you want to capture the sky rising over the Grand Canyon, find a high point that gives you a sweeping view of the canyon and that is void of obstructions, such as trees.

For night-time sky pictures, you will have to leave the city. Light exposure from buildings and streets will corrupt the crispness of stars. Then, set up your tripod, and hit the time exposure.

Step 4: Do Some Experimentation

For all of these shots, you don't want to use a flash. Instead, experiment with your ISO and aperture. Try setting your ISO between 800 to all the way up to 1600, and try incrementally opening up your aperture until you get enough light. Also, take your camera off of the auto white balance mode. Instead, try putting it on a softer setting like cloudy. This will help you capture some of the ambient sky color.

Finally, practice and then practice some more. You will have to do a lot of experimentation to figure out which settings and lenses will give you the best results.