Cropping in a photo of an actual sky can create stunning results in terms of the appearance of the photos we take of our models….that is if you understand what your end game is going in. It’s easy to loose sight of that. I know I have in the past. With model photography we are trying to highlight the models themselves. They should be the focus, not the sky image. You don’t want to pick sky photos that work against that. Specifically, you don’t want images that are so dramatic your eye is drawn to the sky and not your work and you don’t want images that are so flat that everything dissolves into a pastel blob.

The shot above has the characteristics you should be looking for in a sky background. First, it has some clouds but they are whispy and not overly dramatic. The top of the image is a deep sapphire blue which gives good contrast. Moving top to bottom the color gradient very gradually shifts from deep blue to a paler tone. Although you won’t need it for every situation having a very low tree line can be useful in some cases.

Let’s look at some of my mistakes over the years so you can avoid them.

White puffy clouds. This is the most common error. Do you want people looking at your shot and thinking, “What cool clouds! That one in the middle looks sort of like an elephant playing a violin”. Puffy cloud photos are very distracting and tend to look “model railroady”.

I liked this shot when I first took it, and used it for awhile. Ultimately I got away from it. The sky is almost too clear and too vibrant. The contrast with the model tends to be startling.

This image has the opposite problem, the colors are too faint and everything is too diffuse. It’s so washed out that when cropped into a model photo everything just melds into sort of a sea of gray nothingness.

I took this shot in Manhattan a number of years ago. Can you believe that’s really how it looked? No photoshop. Dramatic sunset shots pull your attention away from the model and also look “model railroady”.

You don’t need that many background images. Once you get a good one you can photo shop mirror image versions and slightly different cloud patterns. Keep your eye on the sky and your camera ready!