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postheadericon Skylight

Indirect lighting from the sky – that is, when the sun is shaded by an obstruction – is soft and potentially attractive, but its color varies widely. Traditionally, artists’ studios were built with large north-facing windows because the gentle illumination was consistent. Known as “north light” or skylight, this light may appear tot he eye to be consistent, but in reality it has very unreliable color properties. This meant that it was generally avoided during the days of color film, but fortunately digital cameras can easily neutralize the color. Skylight is blue because of the scattering of short wavelengths in the atmosphere. The blueness varies with the weather conditions and the altitude (it is more blue in the thinner air of mountains). Its effect is weakened by clouds and by any bright object, such as a white building, that reflects sunlight. Although skylight is what remains on a sunny day when the direct sunlight is blocked, it behaves, from the points of view of taking pictures, as a light source in itself.

Skylight is most important when you are photographing entirely in shade. What happens in this situation is that, because there is only one kind of illumination visible and it is consistent, the eye expects it to be neutral in color; in other words, white. Occasionally it is, but more often it is not, and that is when the white balance of a digital camera comes into its own. The “shade” setting can vary according tot he manufacturer, but is typically around 8000K. Some camera menus allow this to be raised or lowered. Remember that the eye is a poor judge of color temperature in shade, but check to see how blue the sky looks, as this makes up most of the illumination, added to by local reflecting surfaces (such as walls, sand, or water).

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