Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Piece of the Sky

Florida has big sky. When it is painted with clouds and color, it can be breathtaking. Behold an expanse of colorful abstract art as wide as the eyes can see. There are no mountains or trees to disrupt it. Add a distant storm to the scene and it becomes that well known Florida skyscape we all love. For this reason, one may consider a wide angle lens to be the best choice when photographing a Florida skyscape. But I suggest that Florida skies can look more interesting if we zoom in on a piece of the sky.

I wrote a blog a few months ago on my strategy for capturing marsh scenes along the Tamiami Trail. Instead of a wide angle, I used a 70-400 telephoto lens and shot most of my images at focal lengths between 100-150mm. The image at the top was shot at 100mm. Because my camera has a 1.5x cropped sensor, it is really 150mm. More recently, I was on Chokoloskee Bay in my canoe, having got on the water before sunrise. Chokoloskee Bay is a wide expanse of water separated from the sky by only a thin line of mangroves. I typically stand in the middle of the bay where I have a 360 degree view. As usual, there were clouds but before the sun peaked above the horizon, it was uncertain how it would play out. Would there be color or just another lackluster cloud-covered sunrise? I found a location where I could steady my boat with feet touching ground and I waited to see what might happen.

I had a 16-50mm lens attached and decided to handhold it while sitting in the boat. Soon the sun light started to brighten the sky and within seconds, broad strokes of magical colors began to fill the eastern horizon. While handholding the camera, I bumped up the ISO enough to allow a fast enough shutter speed (1/80 to 1/100).

The sky was a confusing mix of dullness and brilliant blazes of reds and yellows, depending on the direction I looked. Rather than go wide and capture a scene of combined dullness and brilliance, I zoomed in on the brilliance. Using 35 to 50mm focal length (53mm to 75mm), I framed the sky in abstract formations of color and shapes. The big sky with its beautiful and bold palette became pieces of abstract paintings as I turned the camera horizontal to vertical and back, playing with all kinds of compositions. After only ten minutes of photographing, I put the camera away as the colors faded.

By all means, go wide when it compels you. But also look more closely at the pieces of sky and the infinite ways they can be framed. Instead of one big shot, you may find several small, but brilliant shots.