Dramatic Black & White Skies – Common Photo Themes


Editor’s Note:  This article was originally published on March 13, 2012 and it was among the first of our Common Photo Themes Series.  We republish it here as the series has since become very popular and we thought our newest readers should see it.  Enjoy.

Once a month, we take a break from the single photo spotlights to take a look across the entire [email protected] pool and reveal some common themes.  The purpose, of course, is to demonstrate that there are many ways to look at a common subject.  It is yet another source of inspiration.  This month’s theme is the sky.  Or, more specifically, the sky captured in dramatic black & white.  The sky can be quite dramatic, of course.  But captured in black & white, I somehow feel it enhances the drama, as you will see:

“Lava Flow” by Jonathan Robson

"Lava Flow" by Jonathan Robson

“Lava Flow” by Jonathan Robson

There’s nothing more dramatic than a sky with ripples and knurls like this one – except if you can capture it also in a  reflection.  The photo, Lava Flow by Jonathan Robson, is an interesting study in textures, between the sky and the grasses.  But it’s also an optical illusion.  If you look real closely, the water is actually quite still.  The reflection of the sky is just as clear as the actual sky.  But nothing is more clear than the dreams we have after viewing Jonathan’s photo.

“Neighbourly Hour” by Yazmina-Michéle de Gaye

"Neighbourly Hour" by Yazmina-Michéle de Gaye

“Neighbourly Hour” by Yazmina-Michéle de Gaye

A sky needs a reference point.  A horizon, a building…how about something in silhouette?  How about everything in silhouette?  Photographer Yazmina-Michéle de Gaye captured all of the above in her photo, Neighbourly Hour.  The structure is a powerful anchor, the point of sunset tucked away just behind.  And the sky becomes a great canvas upon which the silhouettes of the horizon and the building is cast upon.  Together, we have drama, beauty and rigid structures – a beautiful composition filled with everything we could ever want in our photographs (or in our lives).

“Down Fill” by Ray Rhodes

"Down Fill" by Ray Rhodes

“Down Fill” by Ray Rhodes

There is an interesting relationship between the sky and the earth – The two go hand-in-hand.  Ray Rhodes knows that all too well as he sets up another composition with the two sharing the frame.  In this photo, Down Fill, I believe the sky’s lofty cauliflower puffs  wouldn’t appear as looming or as powerful.  I appreciate the fact that Ray centered the horizon – which is, to some, a compositional no-no.  By doing so, my mind is now poised and ready for The Grapes of Wrath.

“CBD Skies” by Kevin Thornhill

"CBD Skies" by Kevin Thornhill

“CBD Skies” by Kevin Thornhill

The sky is so much bigger than all of us, bigger than everything we humans have created that we sometimes forget to attain a strong vantage point.  The higher we go, the bigger the sky – it’s the inverse of every other subject we could possibly photograph, so why not take advantage the way Kevin Thornhill has in his photograph, CBD Skies.  The real power behind this photograph is the fact that his vantage point shows us much more of the river, and the buildings and the boats look so small in comparison.  But the sky is as big as ever.  Besides, I like the feeling of lingering somewhere up there in the sky.  It’s harder to get back down to earth from here.

“Storm Clouds” by David Clark

"Storm Clouds" by David Clark

“Storm Clouds” by David Clark

There is an interesting juxtaposition when man-made structures meet the natural environment, as if the two could be equals.  But in David Clark‘s Storm Clouds, we are reminded just how superior nature can truly be.  Whenever you capture the sun in the sky – even if it’s behind clouds – you must expect that the sun and the area around it will get blown out.  This is where you need to ignore the histogram and accept the missing details.  Clearly, as David has demonstrated, missing data isn’t going to hurt the power of your shot.  In fact, I’d say that the white hole immediately above the bridge makes for a focal point more powerful than we could have any other way.



About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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