Focus on Clouds

Focus on Clouds

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Clouds are great for adding that extra impact into your landscape shots, but the type and amount of cloud you include can make or break a nice capture; too much cloud cover and the scene looks dull, or just the right amount of nice fluffy clouds and bobs your uncle. So here’s some tips on capturing clouds:

Capture Motion

Motion in any image can look stunning when done right, and capturing movement in the clouds can do just that. When moving clouds are contrasted with a static landscape the effect can really add to an image, so try to extend your shutter speed accordingly by using a Neutral density filter.

Go Dramatic

Including dark brooding clouds in a scene can create a landscape with a moody atmosphere, perfect for captures of cemeteries (if that’s your thing), derelict buildings and spooky forests. Try using a slightly darker Graduated Neutral Density filter to help darken clouds, and add that special spookiness to your image. A similar effect can be achieved by using a gradient on the sky in Photoshop.

Cloudless Skies

Sometimes shooting a cloudless sky can be all you want in an image; including a vast amount of blue sky can give an image a minimal, open feel, and can be great for abstract and architectural shots when clean lines and limited colours are important. Try using a polariser to deepen the blue sky colour.

Build a Cloud Library

Some may consider it cheating, but the weather is not very predictable and not always on your side, so when you do come across the perfect clouds for an image, but not the perfect scene, take a picture anyway and add it to your digital library of skies and clouds, that way when the scene is perfect and the sky isn’t, you can easily transplant a suitable one from your library to create the image you had in mind. Try taking pictures of the sky from different angles and different times of the day so you’ve got a range of skies to choose from when you need to.

Painting a Picture

On more than a few occasions when I’ve been wandering about with my camera I’ve come across some stunning skies with postcard looks, but no decent scene to back it up; so its on these occasions you can try using the sky and clouds as the subject. Granted it won’t always work, and will depend largely on how great the sky is; try including a little bit of interest at the very bottom of your picture so there’s something for reference, but with emphasis on the sky.

Get High

There’s nothing like being on top of a mountain, or in an aeroplane, looking down at the sea of cloud below; its feels like you’re on top of the world. But there’s not much point in taking a photo if its just cloud, it wouldn’t make a very interesting photo. In an aircraft, wait till the sun is rising or setting, and include the wing if you can. Likewise in the mountains, you can achieve a pretty interesting look if there are peaks poking up through the cloud base like islands in the sea.

Sun Position

The suns position can vary the mood of clouds quite considerably; if the sun is behind a cloud then it will generally look darker, producing more of a sombre mood in the sky, whereas if the sun is in front of a cloud, it will generally look a lot lighter, changing the mood of your scene. You should take this into account when scouting a scene for a photo.

Clouds can be an integral part of a photograph and in England there’s certainly no shortage of them at all. But when its bouncing down, its a lot harder to get a nice shot; I find perseverance is the best measure here. And wherever you’re based in the world they’re almost as sure as death and taxes; there will be clouds above, so make the most of them when you can.

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Jeffrey Byrnes  13 years ago

I love using clouds in my composites. I love how you can have a beautiful photograph with some dramatic clouds, put a texture over it and it just makes for a beautiful image.

Lee Milthorpe  13 years ago

Totally agree Jeff, dramatic skies can make awesome photographs!

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