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Why do I never seem to get a clear picture of the sky during the day, even with white puffy clouds in the sky? It always looks over exposed and whitened out? I am using a Nikon D3100, no lens hood, manual setting.

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2  
    
2. What if you are just shooting the clouds in the sky in the early afternoon? For an e.g. If it's really bright out, but the sun isn't in the shot, what would you recommend for a setting on the camera? What F stop and all that stuff. I want to go outside and try it. I'm a newbie. Thanks! –  axelf Aug 16 '12 at 16:17
    
An ultraviolet filter can help. The UV may not be imaged as visible light but rather be scattered and generally affect contrast. –  Russell McMahon Aug 16 '12 at 16:31
    
Take some bracketed test shots over a wide range from normal to underexposed. This should show you where you can get the balance between blue sky and visible shadow detail that you want. Then retry with the various suggestions in the answer by Itai. –  Skaperen Aug 19 '12 at 16:56

4 Answers 4

This is normal because in the day time, the sky is usually the brightest part of the scene.

If you lower the exposure by applying negative exposure compensation, your sky will get darker and more blue. This will cause other elements in the image to darken and some may end under-exposed. This is because a change in exposure is global.

What you need is to change the relative brightness of the sky compared to the foreground using one of these techniques:

  1. Come back later or earlier during the golden hour. That is the period of time when the sun is within 6 degrees of the horizon. This is the ideal solution in terms of exposure.
  2. Use a circular polarizer. This darkens the sky to varying degree depending on the angle of the sun relative to where you point the camera and the amount of moisture particles in the air.
  3. Darken the exposure, use flash to brighten the foreground. This only works for foreground subjects which are sufficiently close and small to be lit be the flash.
  4. Use Exposure-Fusion or HDR followed by tone-mapping. These are techniques to obtain an image from multiple exposures. You really need a static scene with no moving subjects for this to be easy.
  5. Use a Graduated Neutral Density filter (GND). This works by darkening a portion of the image as long as the division between sky and foreground forms a straight line. Otherwise it looks unnatural. Great for shooting shoreline and beaches though.
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another common option here is the graduated ND filter, which can affect only the over-exposed parts. You can also in many cases process a single image in different ways, one to do the sky, one for the ground, and then layer them together in photoshop or an HDR program. multi-image HDR is usually better, but not always practical –  chuqui Aug 16 '12 at 18:57

The sky is being overexposed as it's brighter than your subject.

Try positioning your subject where the sun is behind you so that it's getting a lot of light and will be better balanced with the sky. If you find the lighting on your subject to be flat or too bright for a model (he/she is squinting) then you should use a flash to light your subject and balance it with the brightness of the sky.

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For a more technical approach Highlight Tone Priority/Active D-Lighting (Canon/Nikon) could help with this to some degree. Don't expect any wonders; capturing the image as suggested by the other answeres is the better solution, but if you don't have a choice you could at least give this feature a try.

It tries to preserve highlights, to my knowledge by taking the photo at one stop below what you choose (by alterting the ISO), and then extrapolate to what you chose, while applying a non-linear tone curve to save detail in the highlights. Naturally this will most importantly make you shadows suffer.

As another more technical tip you should also consider shooting in RAW and working with the 'Recovery' (that's what Lightroom calls it at least) slider in post-processing. That wont work of course if the sky is completely blown out (i.e. 255,255,255 RGB values).

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White clouds - if it is continuous cloud cover - is just about one of the worst environments to get a nicely exposed image because it is actually quite bright.

If you have an image with a large dynamic range you need to decide what is more important to you - highlights and shadows and hence over or underexpose appropriately. In the case of white clouds I would personally underexpose a bit - try 1/3rd stop or maybe 2/3rd of a stop.

In the end, trial and error is best.

Side note: The problem here is that camera sensors read light intensity on a linear scale while human eyes use a logarithmic scale. The "range of values" is significantly larger for the sensor than for the human eye. The dynamic range you see, the camera cannot. (At the moment; apparently some red cameras are getting close or better than it by now.)

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