# Is there a trick to the right exposure for sky photos?

I am a new photographer and have had some lessons in photography. I understand how to shoot in manual, but the hardest part for me is outdoor shoots against a bright sky. I have been taught to meter on the subject, preferably on a neutral area. I was shooting some hot air balloons a couple of weeks ago and no matter what, I was getting under exposed shots. Now it took me a few shots to get the right exposure by moving my shutter speed down, but I guess I feel I should be able to get the right exposure in maybe 2 shots, not 4 or 5. I just wonder if there is a trick to this or is it something that I will gain with more experience. Or does it sometimes take a few shots to get it right?

• May 7, 2015 at 14:18
• Your camera measures reflected light, like all cameras it is trying to correctly expose by measuring light and making calculations for that amount of light to be 18% gray, when you have a really bright sky the camera is calculating the amount of light and getting it to 18% gray, If you are shooting manual you can try incrementing by 1 stop, or whatever, when you get more experience this will be very fast just by looking at the scene. May 8, 2015 at 9:22

Generally it should be possible to nail the exposure on the first try, the old analog masters did it, too. When you're metering a small, far away object, the metered area will be much larger than the object and you get a lot of sky metered, consequently.

I like the concept of Ansel Adams' Zone System for this:

You have to use spot metering for this, if you camera provides this function with a narrow enough spot.

Or, you can meter against the sky, remembering that the sky could need to come out a lot brighter than neutral in the image, depending on the weather. A deep blue sky is actually close to neutral, for a white sky dial in some +EV exposure compensation.

If your subjects are in shadow (you are shooting the balloons against the light), you'll need to overexpose, too, probably ~ +2EV to lift the sky to zone VII (still detailed).

The trick to the zone system is to meter against something and then adjust +-EV to lift/lower that subject to the desired zone. Neutral grey is V, zone II is barely discernable dark, zone VIII is nearly pure white.

• Closer to +3EV if shooting raw, because most of the exposure meters in cameras are calibrated in such a way that the midpoint is somewhere between 9% and 13%. Normally, spot-meter from the brightest area where you want to keep the details, add +3EEV, and shoot raw. However if the range between the important shadows and important highlights is more than 7 EV, stop and think. May 7, 2015 at 14:48
• 2EV seems about right for my 600D, 3 would be ETTR already.
– ths
May 7, 2015 at 17:10
• 600D in raw brings midpoint to 3.3 EV below saturation. May 7, 2015 at 18:24

Try using a polarizing filter over your camera lens. You will have to test different areas of the sky to determine the best angle for the deepest blue while dialing your filter for effect. You'll see the sky darken/lighten as you turn the filter ring. Once established, your exposure should work on auto. You'll also get richer colors on the balloons, landscape, etc.