As an outdoor photographer, you’ll want to study the scene to determine the most fitting composition. If you have a splendid sky, work to emphasize its beauty by showing more of it. This can be done by angling your camera down and placing the horizon line in the lower third of the frame. This simple adjustment opens the composition up to a vast expanse of sky while only showing a small portion of the land below. The results can be dramatic especially at sunset when the light is colorful and bold.
There are some occasions when a sky is just not that interesting. This of course has nothing to do with your camera settings, but is rather just a reality of nature photography. Not every scene will benefit from puffy clouds or spectacular light. Still, this doesn’t mean you can’t make a great photo. The trick is to only show a tiny portion of the sky by placing your horizon line in the upper third. Since you’ll be showing a great deal of the foreground, find something interesting for the best results.
Rather than avoiding the sun, use it to add visual interest in your composition. This technique is not overly complicated but does take a bit of trial and error to master. Start by setting a very small aperture opening such as f22. Then, while looking through the viewfinder, position yourself so an object partially blocks the sun. It should not be entirely obscured so you may have to rock back and forth ever so slightly to find the optimal point. When you see the beams of light spilling through the obstruction, take the shot. The results can be quite dramatic and potentially aided by subtle hints of colorful flare.
There are two basic filters that will help landscape and scenic photographers capture better skies. The first, and perhaps most important tool will be the circular polarizer. Some may disagree here, but it does not need to be a multi-coated, super high end filter. A basic model will be just as effective. With it, you can take a pale blue sky and make it pop. This is especially true when the sky is dappled with clouds. Be warned however, the technique is so powerful it’s easy to go overboard. As a tip, I’d recommend that you find the maximum strength of the filter, and then cut the intensity slightly. This will provide you with more natural results.
One of the most common issues with sunset is the huge contrast difference between the foreground and the sky. The solution is not a new camera or expensive software. Actually, a simple tool known as the graduated neutral density filter is all you need. These come in strengths of 2, 3, and 4 stops. At sunset I find the 2 stop is not effective enough, so I use the 3 and 4 stop more often. Position the dark portion soft edge graduated neutral density filter over lens and shoot. The result is a balanced exposure with detail the foreground and a well exposed sky.