Although it may not seem like the most obvious or even logical way to capture a visual story of place, using the sky as a backdrop to accentuate other visual cues that indicate your location can be creatively challenging—in the best way. Shooting the sky alone certainly can be enough, but to tell a more compelling story of where you are, include other elements in your frame that are accentuated with the sky as a backdrop.
When close to home, I find ways to incorporate the many natural elements that are native to Southern California, beaches, sunsets and palm trees being a few. I never tire of coming up with new and different ways to frame tall, gawky palms against the sky. And when shooting images of the beach, my frames consist of mostly sky in the form of negative space, but I’ll often incorporate the horizon line (and what might be just below it) to offer a clue to the location of where the image was taken. I usually only include enough of the land and sea to anchor the sky, never enough to steal the show. The beauty of living near the coast is the wide-open space that the view of the ocean offers. I want to capture that feeling, that perspective, in my images.
When I travel, I’m always seeking new ways to frame the sky, and I look for the elements that speak uniquely of the landscape of my new surroundings. Often with travel comes iconic symbols that rival the SoCal palms. This could include other kinds of trees or perhaps man-made elements like architecture, art or monuments. The sky offers not only a simple, non-distracting backdrop, but it also can help define the scale or grandeur of the other elements you include in the frame. When shooting the sky, the sky is the limit, as they say!
Time of day can help evoke a visual vibe or mood for the shot. The way you use light in your composition can dramatically affect the end result. For example, shooting into the sun versus shooting with the sun behind you will offer completely different results. I often try them both so I can decide what “feel” I like best at the time. The time of day also influences the color of the sky, so consider what you’re looking to achieve and what will best tell the story of where you are. There are lots of blue skies and sunsets where I live, so when I get the chance to shoot something different (like big, billowy clouds or moody, ominous skies), I get pretty excited. It’s just added visual interest!
Shooting a skyscape usually means you’re working with a lot of negative space. Keep in mind that this space (the sky itself) is as important as the other elements you include. Be deliberate with your composition (where you choose to place the other elements against the sky), and use the positive and the negative space together in a way that creates a compelling image. Showcasing the negative space of the sky can offer a creative breath of fresh air in so many ways.
As you walk through your world, whether in your own backyard or traveling to faraway lands, keep looking up! You might be surprised at what a wonderful change of perspective it can give you and your photographs.
TRACEY CLARK is the founder of Shutter Sisters, a collaborative photo blog and thriving community of female photo enthusiasts, shuttersisters.com. Learn more about Tracey and her work at traceyclark.com.