I took a stroll out of the village yesterday to amble to our nearest ATM, a mere 8km round trip, naturally I took my camera and was musing on the way back how big the sky is… We live in the middle of the Pannonian Plain in the east of Hungary, the flattest plain of land in Europe which is bordered by the Carpathian Mountains, the Alps, the Dinarides and the Balkan mountains, all very well and good but living in the middle as a photographer means that I am at least over 160 Kilometers away from the nearest hill! This presents a special challenge to the photographer, shooting landscapes when the land is as flat as a bowling green in all directions means that your focal point becomes the sky itself and it offers so much more than just sunsets and sunrises, although they are pretty special too!
Being bought up in a city means that the sky was something that appeared between buildings and the horizon was something rarely seen, over the last couple of years I have been trying to learn how to take landscape photographs when there is no “landscape” to speak of and try and maximise the glorious nature of the sky!
Using the sky as your muse means that you need to think very differently about the composition of your photograph, the usual conventions of the golden ratio or the rule of thirds never seem to work, images tend not to convey the sense of enormity of the subject if you compose an image traditionally. It may have something to do with a combination of inhabiting a flat landscape and a strong maritime trading tradition but the Dutch Masters of the 16th and 17th Century painted many landscapes with a very different composition with the foreground (or land part of the landscape) filling just a quarter or a fifth of the final image with the majesty and textures of the sky becoming the focal point of the painting. I spent many hours at the Birmingham Mueseum and Art Galery when I was younger and these pictures fascinated me and always seemd so much more majestic and dramatic than the landscapes of Turner and Constable and I guess it is somthing that I have tried to mimic in my photgraphs…
Not all Skies are made equal when it comes to tonality and colour, if you ask a child to draw a sky you will get a vast swathe of blue and a dot of yellow for the sun, however, if you spend any time looking skywards you will notice that there is a bewildering array of colours that appear above your head. Everything from an almost lead colour in storm clouds through to the most vibrant reds, oranges and purples as the sun head towards the horizon, not to forget of course the azure blues of a clear day! There are a host of filters that can be used to emphasize the tonal contrasts in the sky like polarising and GND filters although I do not at present use any of them and tend to nudge my pictures a little in photshop by adding graduated filters to improve the balance between the sky and land or bring a little more detail out in the foreground with a selective shadows and highlights adjustment.
It may sound odd but there is also a textural quality to the sky that really is incredibly photogenic, as with many textural images they tend to really pop in monotone images. Something happens to images when you shift from a full colour gamut to just tones of the same colour, it is almost as if you mind is no longer distracted on the “shouty” colours and is able to absorb the full textural nature of what is on front of it.
Hopefully I may have encouraged a few people to consider looking upwards when taking landscape photographs and consider the sky to be just as important as the land. A lack of rolling hills, majestic mountainscapes or vast canyons should not mean that there is nothing to photograph and there is so much more to the sky than sunsets, or for those of you that get up early, sunrises 🙂
If you like these images there are many more in my landscapes gallery and you can also order prints with an enticing 15% discount if you enter the code “happy2012” at checkout before the end of January.