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Old Oct 11, 2008, 10:56 PM   #1
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White skies... pale blue skies... thorns in my side! I've tried everything! Exposure bracketing, white balance...

For example: Taking a picture of our house, I can capture the blue sky behind if I focus on the peak of the roof. But then, of course, the house itself is under-exposed. And focusing on the house makes the sky appear pale blue or white.

I've seen the effects of a polarizing filter... pretty awesome. But is it necessary?
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Old Oct 12, 2008, 1:12 AM   #2
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Polarizers aren't necessary, but a lot of the time they might be the easiest option.

Because of the huge dynamic range difference between the average sky and the average photographic subject, you'll never get those good, rich skies without some help.

One way that help can come is through devices that try to lower the dynamic range of the scene, like split neutral density filters or that employ other trickery like polarizing filters.

Software can help with this, also. Exposure blending and HDR programs can give very good results. Unfortunately, depending on what camera you are using, getting those differently exposed shots could be inconvenient.

You said that you have already tried exposure bracketing, so did you try the software blending route with the bracketed exposures and just didn't like the results?

Many editing programs will let you select the sky and darken it without affecting the rest of the picture. A Levels adjustment of the sky alone can be all you need if there is enough color already present to work with.

For really blown skies, many editors will let you select the sky area and add whatever color you like. This is a favorite trick of the real estate trade.

So, like I said at first, a polarizer isn't necessary, but when they work, they make a quick and easy job of it.

Why wouldn't they work? A polarizer has the greatest effect when the area of sky is 90 degrees to the sun. If the angle is far less, it won't have much of an effect.
If it's hazy or the sky just doesn't have much color in it to begin with, a polarizer won't do much either.

Also, because of the uneven polarizing effect due to the angle to the sun, using polarizers on wide angle lenses can result in noticably uneven sky color. Buy, hey...I guess so people don't mind that effect!

Grant
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Old Oct 12, 2008, 8:39 AM   #3
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Hey Grant, thanks for your input.

The only software I've experimented with is Photoshop. I know that color, contrast and level correction can sometimes help, but I use the auto versions of those fixes and I'm only just starting to play with hue and saturation.

I'veread about adjusting and replacing sky on the Internet, but those types of fixes are never easy and rarely look natural. At least that's been my experience. I've had the best luck with a Gradient Tool fix, but even that only works when there'sa level plane... otherwise you have to selectively replace color, and working through holes between branches in trees is a real pain in the butt.

I suppose that a Photoshop guru would know some better methods, or be able to doctor a photo in less than 5 hours, but it seems like a lot of work to me.

Perhaps the polarizing filter is the best route for me to take. By the way, I'm using a Canon EOS Rebel XSi.

I'm torn in my opinion about all this photo modification business. I mean, very few of the really awesome photos I find online are straight out of the camera. So I have to assume they're not really life-like scenes. Kinda weird when you think about it... maybe photography is becoming more like painting, like art, than it is about representing what a person really saw in real life....


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Old Oct 14, 2008, 6:34 AM   #4
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The thing with sky work is that it can either be really easy or fairly hard.

If you have a sky that is pretty clear of interposing objects, or if the interposing objects have simple, well-defined borders (buildings, rocky or snowy mountains) it's pretty easy to get a good selection of the sky with the Magic Wand Tool or the Color Range box. Getting a good selection is the hardest part, but working on skies gets you familiar with various selection tools and techniques. If you do much work at all with Photoshop (or other editors for that matter), familiarity with selection techniques is a big leg up on getting better images.

I've tried a number of sky enhancement techniques, and the ones I end up using the most are the simplest: Like decreasing the brightness of the sky with a levels or curves adjustment and/or choosing an appealing color shade from the color palette and filling the sky selection with that (either through the Fill command or the Paint Bucket Tool). If you go the color fill route, you do it on a layer copy of the image so that you can then use the layer opacity slider on the layer palette to adjust how much of your fill color comes through. If you don't over-do it, the results can be pretty natural, though you might have to try several different fill colors before you get one that works well.

Even more complicated sky selections with complex shapes sticking up, like trees, can be dealt with through the Color Range box or the Magic Wand with the "Contiguous" box unchecked.

Boldstar says: "I'm torn in my opinion about all this photo modification business. I mean, very few of the really awesome photos I find online are straight out of the camera. So I have to assume they're not really life-like scenes. Kinda weird when you think about it... maybe photography is becoming more like painting, like art, than it is about representing what a person really saw in real life...."

Yeah, as this relates to landscape photography, I've seen the term "eco-porn" used.

People see a fantastic photo(s) of a particular area and are inspired to visit. When they get there, they are disappointed that what they find does not match the pictures. It's surprising that enough people have actively complained about this to get a phrase coined for the "offending" style of photographic representation.

Personally, I feel that unless someone is doing straight documentary photos where the goal is to reproduce the scene with as much true-to-life accuracy as possible, they are entitled to use whatever tools they have available to idealize their images. This tradition is as old as photography. It's just that the capacity to do it has never been as great, or as widely available to the masses as it is now.

Grant

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Old Oct 14, 2008, 8:30 AM   #5
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A polarizer will help with gettiing blue skies, but it also increases contrast in the rest of the scene, taking you back to losing detail in shadow areas. Another solution, if you want to minimize post-processing, is a graduated neutral density filter. This will lower the brightness of the upper part of the scene, allowing longer exposure to get the shadows, without washing out the sky. A good solution if you only shoot landscapes.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"For these type of shots, I generally use manual bracketing, going two stops over and under. Of course, this requires the use of a tripod, and doesn't work too well if the scene is changing. In a lot of cases, I can take one, slightly underexposed shot and, using a camera profile I have previously created, create a HDR image, and layer that on to the original, to get a nice, natural looking scene with both shadows and highlights. (Photoimpact -, but there are other programs which shold do similar things.) Using the shadows/highlights tool in Photoshop Elements can also get similar results, with just one step. These methods will make the noise in the shadow areas much more visible,though, and work best with larger sensor cameras such as a DSLR.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"brian
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Old Oct 14, 2008, 8:35 AM   #6
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It's important to remember that Polarizing filters not only bring out the blue in the sky they also work well to bring out those nice white puffy clouds and if you ever shoot landscapes where water is present (lakes, streams etc.) the polarizer will filter out the glare and make them look more water-like. And of course with a TTL DSLR, you control the amount of polarization by rotating that filter.
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Old Oct 16, 2008, 11:53 PM   #7
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One of my first attempts with my new filter. Non-polarized on the left, polarized on the right. Not a fantastically-composed shot, it's only meant as a demo.

What do you think? I'm sold on my $50 purchase.
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Old Oct 17, 2008, 9:04 AM   #8
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The results speak for themselves. Notice how the filter even brought out the fall colors in the leaves on the left side of the picture.
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