When White Skies in Photos Are Good

This time of year in western Montana, we experience a lot of inversions. This creates cloudy white skies, the kind of sky we've been told to avoid in our photographs. But white skies aren't always bad. Here are some ways to take advantage of blank, white skies, regardless of the time of year.


Go Black & White
White skies look fine in grayscale photos because they can be a light shade of gray. This is not as noticeable as a light gray in color images.

In this color photograph, the white sky draws the eye up and away from the log cabin.

In black and white the sky does not seem so noticeable, in part because we are used to seeing historical photos with light skies.

Low clouds and snow mean this color image is almost black and white already.

A black and white version is equally effective.

Smoke from forest fires in Glacier National Park in 2003 produced a similar white sky. In this case, turning the image black and white removed the strange color cast from the smoke.

Smoke from wildfires created a white sky over McDonald Lake.

Changing the image to black and white makes the white sky work without the color cast.

At other times of year, a very light sky can be effective as a monochrome photo.

Just at sunset the sky to the east was very light compared to the reflection.

Changing to black and white focuses attention on the trees and reflection.

Create a Clean Background
Studio photographers purposely hang up white background paper in front of which they pose their models. White skies provide a plain background for your subject, whether a tree or a person, for free, especially when there is fog. In the photo at the top of this post, a cloudy sky created the clean background.

Fog settled in over the harbor, hiding the other docked ships from view.

The fog along the Blue Ridge Parkway hid the other trees and hills from view, setting off the delicate spring leaves.

Try High Key
White skies work well to create high key images. High key images usually have lots of white and light tones with few blacks.

Intentional overexposure created a white background that adds to the
feeling of bright light coming through the leaves.

Snow and a cloudy white sky help unify this winter picture.

So the next time you are faced with blank white skies, don't give up. Think black and white, "portrait" backgrounds and high key images to take advantage of the conditions.