Feeling Blue: 10 Tips for Shooting on Blue-Sky Days

September 6th, 2017 by David Cobb

For a good part of my life I’ve had a comic posted on my wall of a guy sitting in a chair with the caption, “Dare to be boring.” Sometimes I embrace that in my photography when trying to get creative with abstracts in a mundane landscape, or when embracing the blue skies above. Maybe it’s all the smoke from fires lingering overhead, but these days I’m feeling blue and I would like to see a little of it in the sky too.

I like great light as much as the next person, but in these “Red or Dead” times of landscape photography, when some are shooting for another click on social media, then the redder the sky the better. But when I dare to be boring, it’s time to embrace the blue. Not only does blue sky photography sell pretty well to clients, it can also look good. What follows are the times I’m more apt to embrace the blue sky around me with a polarizer attached, and my white balance set to 5200 Kelvin.

1) When there is water involved.
If there is water in the scene, then blue skies generally look appealing to the eye, since the water reflects blue like the sky and it might pick up the reflections of the land pretty well too. The images below show a photo I took in 2008 from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and a garden I photographed for my upcoming book. I like them both, and the garden I photographed in southern California is on the cover of my new book.

Glacier Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon. summer. USA

Garden view of a household in Malibu, California. USA

2) When there are puffy clouds or dramatic skies.
Skies can make or break a landscape photo, and even during those blue sky hours they matter. I love those puffy convective clouds in the Palouse region of Washington, but any dramatic blue-sky clouds will do.

Two barns in the Palouse of Washington with a big sky above in the spring. Tekoa, Washington. USA

3) When there is a complementary color on land, such as yellow flowers, gold fields, or red rocks.
Need I say more?

Fall larch reflecting in a pond in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Enchantments section. Washington. USA

Golden wheat fields of summer in the Palouse agricultural region of Washington. USA

Canola grows in a field fronting the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana, USA.

4) When there are harmonious colors on land that blend well into the sky.
These colors work well together, so why not?

Lavenderfields below the town of Siamiane la Rotonde, France.

5) Sometimes the blue light is just better.
At Canada’s Peyto Lake the early light is often not good. When all that beautiful turquoise water is below it’s best to show up at 10am after a few clouds have formed, and take advantage of blue on blue.

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

6) At the “blue hour.”
Well, duh. The light evens everything out during the blue hour in the morning and at night.

The Church of Assumption on Lake Bled in Slovenia during the blue hour. Fall.

7) When I’m in canyon country.
This is a great time to head for a slot canyon or stay in the shade to photograph bounce light.

Cracked mud, desert varnish, and canyon windows make for an interesting portion of a canyon in Utah. USA

8) When I’m in Yellowstone National Park.
This park—and other geologically active areas—have minerals and pools which show up better when there is blue sky and the sun is high.

The Terraces of Devils Thumb in the Mammoth Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. USA

9) When I’m shooting black and white.
I’m no Ansel Adams, but he did well on blue sky days and so can you. This is also a good time to pull out the infrared camera.

An old homestead in the Palouse wheat growing area of Washington. spring. USA

10) When I’m in a desert or in tropical climates.
If I’m on a tropical island or down in the Baja desert, then blue looks cool. Plus, I wanted to throw in this picture of Sean Bagshaw with his dorky straw hat.

Sean Bagshaw kayaking the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.

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  • Thanks David! This is exactly the article I’ve needed to read. I’m constantly struggling with my blue-sky photography, and I’m glad you shared how you approach them. Well done!

    • Thanks Ryan, and I’m glad I could give a few suggestions of help to your blue-sky photography.

  • Hey…I thought you said I looked cool in that hat. I can’t believe you let me wear it around Baja for the entire trip.

    Great article, dude. A wealth of good ideas. It’s easy to get sucked into that red-sky-rut and never get out. Maybe you’ll start a movement…blue is the new red?

    • LOL, had to do it Sean! Thanks for the compliments, but I’m not sure blue will be replacing red anytime soon.

  • Josh Cripps

    But how many likes will I get with a blue sky photo?

    • Hahaha! I really appreciate the truth in this sentiment, Josh. It’s also particularly golden coming from a “like” generator of your stature. x-D

      • Josh Cripps

        Yeah, it’s a shame so much photography is all about the likes these days. Hinders the art as a whole when people are afraid to break out of the mold.

    • I’m guessing 10-12 at best Josh. 🙂 I’ll be one of them though.

      • Josh Cripps

        Worth it then!