I find that the sky brothers exposure method is lacking 2 big levels... I'm back from 2 weeks in Europe and i metered mostly off the sky and most of my shots are underexposed...

Where should we meter off when it's an overcast day or when it's an urban cityscape? Most of my buildings are underexposed if i meter off the sky, and if i meter off the buildings, i get a whiteout for the sky.

Any sky brothers advice on this one? :)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome on Photo.SE! What kind of metering did you use? E.g. Spot metering, matrix metering,... \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sky brothers??? \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why would you meter off the sky? I don't get it. You should meter off the thing you want to be properly exposed. So unless you are taking pictures of the sky, don't meter off the sky. What is your meter? An in-camera meter? Do you know if it's working? Have you compared it to a meter from another camera? Do you know the "Sunny 16" rule? Are you shooting film or digital? If film, what film? I am perplexed. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess OP's talking about this: " 'Undersanding Exposure' by Bryan Peterson, in particular the chapter called 'The Sky Brothers'. This deals with sunny days, backlit sunrise and sunset landscapes etc. It suggests taking meter readings on things like the blue sky, to the side of the sun or on the dusky sky at sunset. " Never read it myself, though, so that's just an uneducated guess. \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to Photo-SE. I don't mean to be overly pedantic, but the title of your question is literally nouns, which do not make a question. Think of the title as the single-sentence sales pitch of what you're asking about. That is, to get your question across, make it into a succinct complete sentence ending with a question mark. Please edit your question to address the other comments, and edit your title to be a summary question of what you're asking. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 1:14

3 Answers 3


Since you’re “back from Europe” and are just now seeing your shots, I’m going to assume you shot film. When exposing film, it’s important that you understand how much latitude the film has in capturing the scene and whether you can play with that in development.

What you should be doing is taking a meter reading off the sky, the building, and anything else in your scene. Understand how far apart the perfect exposures are for each. Now, pick a perfect exposure for your subject and determine how hot the sky is compared to it. 2 stops? Who cares. 4 stops...eh, probably still okay. 5+ stops and you are definitely blowing the sky.

So, now you need to determine if you should underexpose your subject in order to save some sky. This is also where your developing could affect things. Using a compensating developer on super contrasty scenes will help and if this is your plan, you could flirt a little closer to the edge of being blown out.

At the end of the day, there’s no one size fits all rule except for, meter everything. Where you place the exposure after that is completely up to your goals for the shot.


I assume that you are shooting film. This is my approach when using large format, where I am using a spot meter so I can pick exactly what I want to meter from. If you're using an averaging meter you can do this but you need to be aware of the area it is averaging over. Note I'm shooting B/W film: colour materials have somewhat lower dynamic range I think. Note also I don't muck around with development for film as that's too complicated for me (remembering which sheet needs what development is something Ansel Adams could do but I'm not up to it).

  1. Pick the thing you want to be mid grey and take a reading from that.
  2. Pick the brightest highlight you care about (so perhaps the sky in your case) & meter from that;
  3. Pick the darkest shadow you want to see detail in and meter from that.

Note that it's perfectly fine for there to be highlights & shadows you don't care about which you expect will be flat white & black in the finished print.

If there is less than 3 stops between (1) & (2) & between (1) & (3), expose for (1): since (1) is typically the bit of the print you care most about (someone's face, say).

If there is less than 6 stops between (2) & (3), then expose for the midpoint. This will push (1) some way to one end of the useful range of the film but you will not lose detail anywhere you care about. You may want to reconsider whether you are happy to lose detail in one or more of (2) & (3) to put (1) in a better place. Typically (see below) it is better to risk highlights than shadows but remember that (1) is the bit of the print you really care about.

If there is more than 6 stops between (2) & (3) then you either will lose detail somewhere and you need to pick where that will be, or you need to reduce the dynamic range in the image: if the sky is blue then you can do this with a red filter to darken the sky, or you can use a polarising filter if you have one & know how to use it (I don't). If you do neither then it's best to expose so that the shadows retain detail as film handles overexposure better than underexposure so you will often be able to recover skies when printing but you generally won't be able to recover underexposed shadows. In any case remember that (1) is what you rally care about: if pushed you should sacrifice anything to keep (1) in a reasonable place.

(Unless (1) isn't what you care most about in the image: perhaps you are intending to make prints which are almost white or almost black: someone I know makes very beautiful prints of snow which are like this. The most important thing is to be conscious of what you want the image to look like as you take it.)


I think you have two choices though the first is much easier for film, unless you're going to have that film converted to digital afterwards.

  1. A Polarising filter.
    This will temper the amount of light in the sky slightly. You can turn the filter to give the best glare reduction & emphasise the clouds.
    This is a [not very good] picture of a building near me, which I've used previously on here to ask about poor focussing - the sky, however, was brought into relief by a polarising filter...
    enter image description here

  2. Exposure stack - Bracket/HDR
    Bracket the exposure; one for the main subject, foreground etc, one for the shadows & one for the sky.
    Better on a tripod, but the software these days can cope with hand-held if you're reasonably steady.
    This was built using this technique [0EV, -2EV, +2EV], merged in Aurora HDR, then given the 'warm day look' in Photoshop - as it was taken in autumn & the initial colours were a bit cold. You can actually push an HDR look from a single exposure using appropriate software, though it's not quite as good as bracketing then merging afterwards.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ or 3, a variable density filter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 5:23

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