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What You Get’s Not What You See

I was desperate. Too many of my pictures were turning out undramatic, humdrum, and wretched. It was largely because they had undramatic, humdrum, and wretched skies.

For a long time, I had the belief that, skywise, I had to take what I got whenever I set up at a location. If wimpy skies were all that were, then that’s what I’d walk away with. Sometimes even if I saw a good sky and rushed to capture it, it would flee the scene like a skittish cardinal-grosbeak. Now that problem is over. I have software that can replace skies in (probably) any picture. No doubt purists will be appalled by this. Some time I’ll write an article about the near-magical program I use.

Wasted and Useful Skies


But now is not that time. First I want to tell you how got my best “angry sky picture“. One evening I showed up at a primo sky-photography location, Little Harbor in Ruskin, Florida. Sunset was approaching and I started snapping. There were scads of fascinating cloud formations, all turning rust-orange or smokey brown. I went crazy capturing them all before the light went. For the most part, they came out okay. I put a couple of them in the archives for future insertions.

I was tempted to employ my “View of St. Petersburg” (below) as a sky for some other picture. Perhaps I’d crop out the lower part and use only the clouds. But when I loaded it and processed it, it looked like it could stand very well on its own, thank you. It was truly an angry sky. It reminded some people of El Greco’s “View of Toledo.”

El Greco, View of Toledo

Nice complement but I wouldn’t even hang my picture in the same room as this great painting. It was done in the late 1590s, a few decades after the Council of Trent banned landscape painting (1563). The Catholic Church believed art should instill proper behavior, like obedience, praise, and humility. Any piece that might engender doubt or naughtiness was unacceptable. El Greco was taking a chance painting a landscape at all, let alone an angry one. And let not the barking mainstream critics tell you this is a “profoundly religious” work. Despite the church in the background, this is a profoundly secular picture.

The night I went trolling for sky shots to insert into needy photographs, I didn’t know I was going to find one that didn’t need such help. What do you think?

View of St. Petersburg

Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    I woke up early today. I always enjoy your articles.

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