If you shoot this sort of thing in that sort of light all the time, and especially with that film, I would learn how to mask your negatives for printing.
For now, just make sure you are always exposing the foliage properly, and work very hard on your printing.
Also, keep in mind that overcast days are "blah," and there is not a lot you can do about the quality of natural light. It will be flat. An overcast day with the sky in the shot is one of the hardest photographic situations to print. You need enough exposure on the neg to get the color and density of the things on the ground right. However, with the sky also in the shot, you are facing a composition with a very high luminance range as well. You need enough contrast and saturation on the Earth-bound subjects, so any underexposure for those areas will generally work against you in that way. So, in this situation, you are double fracked. You have a very flat quality of light and a very wide luminance range. Either one on its own is relatively easy to deal with, but combined, things are very difficult, and you must rely primarily on your printing skills.
Graduated filters are fine if your subject has a perfectly straight dividing line between the dark parts and the light parts. (I think I may have taken only a handful of pictures in which this is the case and I did not want a great difference between the two to be evident, ever.) Otherwise, it can easily look like a bad burning/dodging job. If I was going to to a bad burning/dodging job, I'd rather do it on the print than do it directly on the irreplaceable film.
As i said before, I'd learn to mask. It'll be a great way to get the contrast, density, and saturation you want on the Earth-bound objects, while dramatizing the skies.
You can also do a dual scan HDR type thing. Try Hybrid Photo dot com to talk about that, though.
Polarizing filters will not help you here. They are about the farthest from what you should use in your case. They will either make the "blahness" worse, or do nothing at all.
P.S. If you are not using color correction filters in camera on overcast days (or in any color temperature significantly distant from the area of 5500 K), it can help to give negs extra exposure to make color balancing easier. With color film, you are actually exposing multiple images at once, stacked in layers; each one is sensitive to a certain part of the spectrum. You want to expose so that the least sensitive of the color layers in that light is not underexposed. If you don't, you can lose detail and texture, and make color balancing difficult if not impossible in the low tones of the image.
Using filters to save the sky is a really bad idea because the filter will lower the sky light by 1,2 or more stops but guess what? The shadows are lowered those number of stops too so what is the use of that? No use at all.
What you can do is use a GRADUATED ND filter however...now that makes sense...but to use a non graduating filter is silly at best because it buys you nothing.
And contrary to this belief that a grad filter is only good if the horizon is straight, this is wrong, and millions have proven this to be wrong information. We're talking landscapes here, right? There are few landscapes where a Grad ND will not work.
Most the time is this situation I have found that the sky is more than a few stop difference to the trees and a grad ND still doesn't help because the filter is still place across the trees as well, assuming the trees go to top of frame. I try to re-frame the shot the crop out the sky.
I have a similar problem with hiking/ski trips. People are often standing up against white snow, or a bright blue sky 10,000 feet or more in altitude (Mt. Bierstadt was 14k and a rich bright blue sky), and when you take pictures like that you either have to pick a middle ground or meter the person.
I'm still trying to get it right, but I tend to take the meter reading from my AE-1 Program then open her up 1 full stop (it will say 16, then I'll open up to 11, for example) to try to get better definition on the human aspect of it.
Personally, I'd say this: What's your point? Why are you taking the photo? Is it for the foliage? Or the sky? What is your main focus? Meter for that, and deal with the rest. Personal taste, though, and there is no wrong answer.
Always meter for the shadows. A shadowy silhouette against the sky is rarely recoverable while a blown out sky can at least be recovered.
Another technique not mentioned so far is to take two shots, one metered for the shadows and another metered for the sky. Using masks, print the subject and the sky onto the same paper. Registration may be difficult but I find you can use landmarks to line them up pretty close.
Finally, consider shooting black and white film where you CAN use red, orange and yellow filters to darken the sky without darkening the foreground as much. Either bring two bodies or two backs so you can shoot both.
Your "problem" is not rare, and has a fairly easy solution. It is a classic case in which the use of fill light is the solution. Bring a variable-power speedlight and a diffuser with you. Use the shutter and aperture to properly expose the environment, and use flash power to properly expose the people once you have set your shutter and aperture. Remember not to exceed maximum synch. speed on the shutter.
Originally Posted by Markster
That's very interesting. I hadn't thought of that. I guessed/figured that all the snow and the bright sky would be a natural fill. Only problem is the AE-1P limits flash synch to 1/60. I'd have to start using MUCH slower film! :)
(but, truth be told, after reading up on it lately I may try moving to slower film...)
Yes, the slower flash synch speeds of older cameras require that you use broad depth of field and/or slower films and/or that you overexpose. (If using negative film, a little overexposure will not destroy your pictures as it does with positive film.) They also require that you use a steady hand to minimize the effects of camera shake at '60. Also, you are limited to lenses that you can hand hold at '60. The general rule of thumb about hand holdable shutter speeds states that this would be a 50 mm lens or shorter. I agree that the AE-1, or any older FP shutter camera, is not ideal for fill flash, but it can be done.
You are correct that all of the natural elements do provide reflected light. If this was not the case, any subject would be pitch black unless it was directly lit. Yet we see things that are not directly lit quite easily with a camera (and even better with our eyeballs). All light but direct light must be reflected light. However, I would personally not call natural reflected light "fill" light. The term "fill" implies to me that the reflected light was intentionally introduced for the photograph, by means of a reflector or a self-contained light source such as a speedlight. So, you are always getting light bounced in from the surroundings, but if you are needing to overexpose the environment, then it is not enough fill to give you a 1:1 ratio of the people to the background. The fill flash lets you do this.
If you try this out and like it, but do not like working around the synch. limitations of the AE-1, try the T-90, which has a '250 max. synch. speed. They are also much more rugged and full featured than the AE-1's, and they are not expensive.
I agree on the blah is blah analysis. In the UK, especially northern latitudes, the sky is close to white for a large part of the year. The best way to represent it is to separate the sky from base white with a black mask. Burning in a bright white sky usually leaves an artificial, grainy looking weird dull grey and for my money, grad filters provide an equally apocalyptic look.