A Quick Intro to The New Sony Sky HDR App

In Featured, Photography, Sony, Videos by Matt K19 Comments

One of the things I’ve been diggin’ about using the Sony A7R II (you can see my first thoughts on the camera here), is the app system it has. It’s a great way to extend the features of the camera. One of those apps was just released, and I had the chance to test it out the other day. It’s called Sky HDR and there’s a quick 4-minute video intro here.

What Is Sky HDR?

Basically it’s an app that takes the place of a Graduated Neutral Density filter. And if you don’t use a Grad ND filter, and prefer to darken your skies in Lightroom or Photoshop, it takes the place of that too because it does it in-camera.

To me, this is such a HUGE step in the right direction of using technology to help common shooting situations. One of the main reasons I really like it, is because it shoots in Raw. I’ll be honest. When I first heard about it, I figured it would be some processed JPG that I’d end up with. Nope! It’s still a raw photo. It’s actually merging two high quality raw photos together, which gives you the best image possible. Which means the image quality and your raw workflow (and the apps you use in this workflow) don’t need to change.

Is it Better Than A Grad ND or Lightroom?

Well that’s the magic question right? Think about it this way. What would be the best (meaning “best” quality photo) way to get the best sky and best foreground from a photo? It my opinion, it would be by taking two photos. One properly exposed photo for the sky. And one properly exposed photo for the foreground. Then merge those two photos together using layers in Photoshop. That way, you’re getting the right exposure in each photo, and you’re just layering the best parts on top of each other.

The problem with that is it takes a lot of time. So most of us do one of two things to make this process easier.

• We use a Graduated ND filter while shooting, to darken the sky so we have the right photo, right in-camera. If you like to walk away with the photo as right in-camera as possible, then this is the option to go with.

• We use the Graduated Filter in Lightroom or Photoshop to darken the sky. If you’re not opposed to some post processing and spending some time on the back-end, this is a great option (and the way that I’ve used in the past – see “Why Grad Neutral Density Filters Are Dead to Me”).

(Photos taken with Sony A7, Sony 16-35mm: f/16, ISO 100, .4 seconds)



Each works well, and is faster than always taking two photos, and merging two layers on top of each other. But they’re not ideal. One involves putting a piece of glass/plastic in front of your lens, and the other involves tweaking the exposure of your photos after the fact.

That’s why I think this is such a big step in the right direction. It takes two photos, with the CORRECT exposure for each (foreground and sky), and simply blends them together in-camera for you. You have to watch the video to see how it happens, but there’s total control through the whole process. So you always know where the boundary between sky and foreground is, and you can control it even after you take the photo.

Some Common Questions

Q. Does it shoot in Raw?

A. Yes!

Q. Can I change the angle of the sky?

A. Yep.

Q. Can I control the exposure for the foreground and sky separately?

A. Yes. You can control the exposure, ISO, and white balance.

Q. How much does it cost?

A. It’s 9$. Way cheaper than a Grad ND filter 🙂

Anyway, if you shoot Sony it’s definitely something to check out. Here’s the link to the Sony App Store website.

Have a good one!



  1. Mike Wilson

    For the Sony NEX 6: will the Bracket Pro app in PlayMemories allow one to use the Sony remote?

  2. Ralph Brinley

    Matt, I downloaded the app earlier in the week for my a7r2 & a6000. Works great and best part is you don’t have to worry about stacking filters on your lens. You can use either a 10 stop ND or circular polarizer and the app to get the effect you want.

  3. salsaguy

    Awesome video and app Matt. Can’t wait to try it on my a6000. I know how you said actual external grad filters were dead to you in the past.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      I know right! Now I can get the best of both worlds. Grad filter without the post processing and the filters to carry around 🙂

  4. Anthony

    It’s great.
    How do the Blue Sky, Sunset, and Neutral Desity settings differ from one another?

  5. Greg

    Hey Matt, could you help a total beginner? I got the app and gave it few tries.but can t really get the best results yet.when you set your exposure,should I base on the histogram and/or the exposure meter? I see on your video that you re at +2 for the ground and -0.7 for the sky. (sorry for the bad english,I m not a native)

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Greg. There’s no formula for what you should set the sky to. Basically, you have to look at the sky you’re photographing, and then experiment with exposures for the sky in the app. Remember, the goal of the app is to try to capture what you see, so nobody can really tell you what to set it to – only can can based on what you see. For me it’s usually -1 to -2 but it depends on how bright the sun is. Good luck!

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  8. Tim

    Thanks, Matt! One question: If the idea is not having to use ND filters, how can I get both sky graduated AND water smoothed without physical filters or post-processing?

  9. Terence Nickolette

    Hey Matt, have you used the Sony “Smooth Reflections” app? I’ve used it a little and it seems pretty good except for all the time it takes to put the shot together. Would appreciate another “Quick Intro” on that app.

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