What To Do When the Sky of Your Landscape Is Just Boring

What To Do When the Sky of Your Landscape Is Just Boring

We all love a great landscape under an amazing sky. Clouds, sunlight, sunrays, and colors are often preferred over a simple and dull sky. But sometimes, nature doesn’t show us the things we like to see, something that can be frustrating if we can’t go back a second time. Is there a solution?

Almost every landscape photo can profit from a great-looking sky. If the sky isn’t filled with amazing cloud formations, lovely sunlight and sunrays, and tantalizing colors, we’re often not happy. For this, we scrutinize our apps to choose the best time and circumstances to increase the chances for the best possible skies.

We set our alarm clocks hours before dawn to be on time at the right location. Or we stay out late to catch the last light of the day. We look at the humidity to predict the chances of a light ground mist, or we look at the clouds cover at certain altitudes.

This is what we want in a landscape photo: a nice foreground and an amazing sky. We try to plan ahead, but Mother Nature doesn't always deliver what we want.

No matter what we do to choose the best moments for the perfect sky, Mother Nature will surprise us nevertheless. The clouds vanish just before sunset, or a thick layer of low clouds obscures a sunrise. Despite all the apps, it’s not always predictable.

This is also fortunate, because it means we often end up at great locations with all sorts of light. It prevents us from photographing the same landscape and sky as everyone else. Besides that, if the situation isn’t to our liking, we can always return on another day. Well, not always. Sometimes, we can’t go back so easily.

Go Back When the Light Is Better, Unless You Cannot

No matter how many preparations we make to achieve the landscape photo we have in mind, there is a chance it won't work out the way we prefer. Don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t, because you can go back another time. It also has a benefit, because you learn how the light and season changes the landscape you want to shoot.

My first visit at this shipwreck turned out to be somewhat disappointing. Boring light during sunset offered little opportunity.

Just go back another time if the first few tries didn't work out. But you have to be able to return, which is not always possible. Since I already visited this site, I knew what to expect.

If the landscape is nearby or at an hour's travel distance by car, going back is no problem. Just go and see how the sky turns out. But if the travel distance is more than a few hours by car, the situation is completely different. Although you can go back in theory, it takes some planning and determination.

What if you are on a guided photo tour? In that case, the chance of going back to that specific landscape is nearly impossible. There is a travel schedule you have to stick to. It means you’re at that specific landscape at that one time, no matter what the weather situation is. You have only one opportunity to shoot at that location.

A location in France, over 1,000 kilometers away. It's a place I can't visit that easily. This is the weather I got. Take it or leave it.

This also applies if you’re on a holiday. Perhaps you stay at one location for a few weeks. This will allow you to go back, but often within limits. If the weather situation is stable, it may not change a lot during your stay. Perhaps another season would be better. In other words, you can't always go back at the best time.

Solution One: Use a Sky Replacement

If the sky is boring, just use a sky replacement tool. Software like Photoshop offers an easy and quick way of changing a sky into something more interesting. Luminar is another one, as you may know, since it’s something they advertise about a lot. Just push a button, choose one of the available skies, and you’re done. You can even buy new skies packages or use your own.

The sky replacement result from Luminar AI. It looks nice at first, but it is recognized as a Luminar sky immediately  And the light doesn't match at all. It's clearly a fake.

Although it may seem like a great solution, I don’t like it one bit. This is just photo manipulation, which has nothing to do with photography. It mimics a light situation, but a keen eye will see it’s not real. Although the masking is advanced, it’s often far from perfect, and the light direction doesn't match that often. But most of all, the skies that are used are often seen in other images also, meaning sky replacement will become obvious. Bottom line, I don’t think sky replacement is a good solution at all.

No sky replacement software can imitate the real thing, like this photo. My advice: don't use sky replacement.

Solution Two: Don’t Capture the Sky at All

If you don’t like the sky, why use it in the frame? I never capture the things I don’t like. If I don’t want a subject in my landscape, I try to avoid it. If I don’t want an ugly tree or bush in the frame, I change my composition. If the sky is boring and it adds nothing to the photo, why have it in the frame?

A boring sky, but amazing light. If the sky isn't that interesting, why capture it in the frame at all?

There is no rule that states that you have to have a sky in your landscape photo. Landscapes without a sky are also possible. These may look different, but that’s the beauty of them. You’ll end up with a completely different landscape photo. Use the elements in the landscape, and perhaps you’ll end up with a unique photo of that location.

Use something to fill the plane of the image that normally contains the sky. Just look around and be creative. It might be more difficult at a beach, for instance. 

Use something to fill the part of the image that normally contains the sky. Just look around and be creative. It might be more difficult at a beach, for instance. 

Solution Three: Use a Natural Window

It will ask a lot of your creativity, but that’s what makes photography so much fun. But be aware, it won’t work for every landscape.

You have to see a photo as a two-dimensional display of a three-dimensional world. There is no depth in a photo, only the illusion of depth. If you manage to look at an image in two dimensions, you will notice how the frame is composed of planes, one of which is the sky. If the sky is boring, this plane will be even without a lot of detail. Why not fill it with detail?

I deliberately added a lot of the boring sky in this composition. I used the blue plane in the photo to show the leaves from a tree.

I loved the colors of the sky during this late evening twilight, but I didn't want too much of the dark blue sky. Looking through the trees offered a great window.

A boring white sky, filled with snow. I added a foreground subject to fill that white sky without leaving it out completely. 

If the plane is occupied by a sky without detail, you can add something — tree branches, for instance. Or you can use silhouettes of the foreground. It is possible to make a sort of window and show the landscape through that window.

You can take it a step further and use black and white to make it more artistic. Don’t get me wrong, black and white is by no means a way of making a dull photo more interesting. Use black and white deliberately to achieve a certain feel to the photo.

Black and white can be very powerful during an overcast sky. These dunes are boring to photograph in general, but by adding the silhouettes of the trees, they become much more interesting.

Another example of how an overcast sky can make an interesting black and white landscape photo.

By adding elements in the plane that is occupied by the sky, you can make a great landscape photo under a boring sky. This may be more difficult in certain landscapes compared to other landscapes, but you should give it a try. You’ll discover it is possible to shoot great landscape photos under every possible light and weather situation.

Sometimes, a single element in the landscape against a relatively boring sky can be enough to make the image more interesting.

Do You Have Other Ideas for a Landscape Photo Under a Boring Sky?

I offered two solutions for shooting landscapes under a boring sky. I don’t count a sky replacement as a good solution, but I mentioned it nevertheless. Do you have another idea that offers a solution for great landscape photos when the sky is not that interesting? Please share it in comments below.

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20 Comments
Willy Williams's picture

My first real photography instructor commented, "Everybody knows that the sky is blue, so if it isn't doing something interesting, leave it out." And I concur regarding sky replacements.

Kent LaPorte's picture

Not to rehash the conversation about sky replacements, i think a sky replacement is just fine if it is for your own personal consumption and learning. Think of it as a compositional learning tool so that when you do go out and take pictures your vision is better planned. the fact is that not all of us have the time to repeat trips just to get the right light. Also some pictures are not about art or photojournalism; they are memory invoking which may have been the sky that you once remember at a location. People need to chill.

Greg Edwards's picture

Agreed that pictures are sometimes not about art or photojournalism. Sometimes, it's imagery for a summer themed corporate document or campaign and the non-photographer client has supplied photos taken on an overcast day in early April on their mobile phone with no thought to the background or light and wants the huge expanse of dull grey sky to look more interesting.

Jens Sieckmann's picture

A "low impact" version of a sky replacement could be adding only one or two clouds. Incorporating reflections is also a method to fight a blue sky. It does not need a large lake. Sometimes a small puddle helps or a window glass, a car or something else reflecting light.

Nando Harmsen's picture

The reflections is a good solution indeed. Personally I'm not sure about a few clouds. I had one person who added a few birds in an empty sky, but it was too obvious and artificial.

M C's picture

Shoot photos when the sky is not boring.

Nando Harmsen's picture

You missed the point. Sometimes you don't have another opportunity.

M C's picture

It was a joke!

Nando Harmsen's picture

I appreciate a good joke ;)

Ter Ess's picture

I seldom go out to shoot landscapes when the sky is a 'pretty' blue. My feelings on sky replacement is, if that is what you want, you may as well replace the entire image that with one you like. Or at the very least list that the sky wasn't part of 'your' shot. Just say'n. If you find yourself with no other choice of photo days, concentrate on creeks, rivers, or rock formations...keep it real.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/114541733@N02/

Jenny Rich's picture

I personally like sky replacement tools and it can give a very decent result if not overused / realistically done. Besides, there are various natural effects (like sun rays that can be added in Photoworks or rain drops filter etc) which would add up to the photo if applied correctly. Photography is about art in any cases, so I see no problem in using artsy tools to create something you personally would find interesting.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Great article Nando and beautiful images

Chris Fowler's picture

This is a great topic. I went to Scotland in April, no other choice on timing (long story). Problem is, spring was a few weeks away, so most of the landscape photos I took feature a dull cloudy sky and light drizzle (argh!!!). Did I enjoy the trip? yes. Did I get some nice snapshots with the family? yes. Do I look back at many of the photos with regret? YES. I feel the shame in even considering sky replacements, but they're tempting.

Guess I'll just have to focus more on the memories made during that trip... and go back when the light is better LOL

Juan Isaias Perez's picture

When I don’t have a decent sky or in general colors, I focus on shape and geometry and plan for a black and white image. In this situation my favorite tool nowadays is to shoot infrareds. A slow and very satisfying process.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

My first reaction to the title was " just come back another time" and was afraid it would promote sky replacements ( I dislike those) but reading I discovered it is a great article with solid ideas. Enjoyed it.
There's an extra option, go infrared.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I never tried IR. Perhaps I should

Ruud van der Nat's picture

Maybe write another nice article about it….

Nando Harmsen's picture

First I would have to try.. but perhaps from my first time experience with IR
We'll see. Thanks for the suggestion.

Lance Jekel's picture

I also work on photo editing and use Adobe Photoshop software. Your work has been really beautiful, really amazing.

Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us. I hope you will share some more info about.....Please Keep sharing!

Lance Jekel's picture

I also work on photo editing and use Adobe Photoshop software. Your work has been really beautiful, really amazing.

Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us. I hope you will share some more info about.....Please Keep sharing!