Of course, we all walk around covered in labels that other people -- with varying degrees of justification -- insist on hanging on us. As an instinctive contrarian, I've spent most of my life rejecting them, though I do suspect this means it's easy to practise cunning Br'er Rabbit-style reverse psychology on me from time to time. One day, I must ask the Prof how she inveigled me into doing all the cooking for the past 20 years, for example, though that may simply have been me reacting, contrarian-wise, to the labels hung on my gender. "Real men don't cook"; oh, really? Eat that, mate!
But Mike had a point. I do have a problem with skies. Several problems, in fact.
- One of the obvious disadvantages of being a photographer is that you have no control over the sky that happens to be happening over your chosen subject. You can fake it in Photoshop, of course, or decide to wait and see, or come back later, but by and large you're stuck with that large area of over-bright randomness doing its own thing overhead, like some clown mooning from a passing car or making bunny ears at the back of the group.
- If you're going to include the sky, then unless it's pretty overcast you have to throw away some of your exposure range at one end or the other: either end up with "blocked" and noisy shadows or accept a white featureless blank up top. Exclude (most of) the sky, and you have more creative options.
- Back in the early days of digital, with less well-designed sensors and software, the problem of ugly purple-fringing and other artefacts around branches seen against a bright sky used to drive me nuts. I have spent entire afternoons carefully painting the edge of every damn twig in a tree. It was a chore comparable to spotting out dust marks on darkroom prints. I avoided trees against skies, which is easier said than done, and can form the basis of a whole aesthetic of horizonless images.
- Skies are generally pretty dull. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good sky, but they don't happen anywhere near as often as they should. By and large, the sky is like expanses of featureless grass: ubiquitous, and not particularly interesting.
- "Good" skies tend towards the tacky end of the aesthetic spectrum. They're the province of the users of graduated filters, polarizers, and HDR software. No sky was ever that blue, no cloud so pneumatic, no sunset quite so psychedelic. Big skies and sunsets are nature's way of exposing your lack of taste.
- A pictured sky is never negligible. You cannot ignore the compositional weight of clouds, vapour trails, and blue, pink and grey areas in a two-dimensional image. You can use them, if you're lucky, but you cannot ignore them. If they're all wrong, for your purposes, you have three choices: wait, fake it, or cut them out.
The problem, of course, is that landscape pictures without sky can feel claustrophobic and airless, and people may build entire theories about your personality or artistic "message" based on that. I don't blame them -- I would, too -- but put those labels somewhere else, please. And, who knows, I may be just about to start including lots of sky in all my photographs, though somehow I doubt it. See 1-6 above, especially 5 and 6.
Subtle, but... It's just the sky.
I should mention two outstanding photobooks which take the sky as their subject: Richard Misrach's The Sky Book (Arena, 2000) and the more recent Sunburn by Chris McCaw (Candela, 2012). Examples of artists who take the "problem" of the sky and work with it to produce something radical.