How To Get Magnificent Pictures Of A Cloudy Sky

Many photographers believe that on cloudy days you can not get good photographs. And many others believe that there is no better situation to go out. And take pictures than when the sky is covered with clouds. The truth is that everyone is as wrong as they are right in such statements.

There are no ideal conditions for taking photographs. But there are opportunities for you to exploit them with your camera and your knowledge.

Whether it’s a sunny day, a cloudy day, foggy day, rain or even a lot of snow. What will allow you to take an excellent picture is the way you work your shots. The light in them and the elements with which you form them.

In today’s article you will learn how to take great pictures of a cloudy sky. From understanding which are the main problems when doing so, and then give them a solution.

Don’t let the clouds stop you, grab your camera and go take pictures!

The Necessary Equipment

The camera: to take pictures of clouds you don’t need a super-sophisticated camera at all. Since almost any camera can take excellent pictures. But in order to capture the clouds in all their magnificence, your camera must have manual shooting mode.

The goal: there is no valid rule here either. You can use wide-angle lenses, “normal” lenses or telephoto lenses. Depending on how much of the sky you want to capture within your frames.

Filters: Filters are an excellent tool for you to add more drama to your cloudy skies. I recommend that, if you have a polarizing filter and/or a neutral density filter. Don’t forget to keep them in your backpack to use them in your next shots.

The tripod: it is always essential in poor lighting conditions, or if you want to take long exposure photographs. If you’re looking to photograph clouds at sunset. Or want to catch a few lightning strikes in a storm, don’t forget to carry your tripod with you.

Remote Shutter: If you want to take long exposure photos with a tripod. It won’t be enough because, when you press the shutter release button, you can end up moving the camera yourself. Therefore, to minimize the risk of blurred photographs. Try to get hold of a remote trigger so that you can minimize the maximum trepidation.

Others: try to carry well-charged batteries, empty memory cards, a good backpack. And depending on where you go to take your shots. Protectors for your camera and your backpack in case the clouds become storms. And a cleaning kit in case drops or dust dirty your camera and lenses.

Clouds On The Horizon

The Places

In the photography of cloudy skies, as could not be otherwise, the protagonist are the clouds. The problem arises when it comes to surrounding your protagonist with elements that can reinforce his presence. And help you to give your photographs greater strength.

These elements can range from the sky and other clouds, to birds, trees. And any other element you consider appropriate to find the photograph you are looking for. When photographing cloudy skies, you should not only focus on these. But you can use as many resources and elements at hand. To make the messages that your photographs convey more effective.

The sky will always be there and with a little patience you will find clouds worthy of being portrayed. But it is very important that when you do, be clear about what other elements will surround them. To help them gain greater prominence within the frame.

If you want to know how to give more prominence to your clouds. Be sure to read the following article: “16 Ways to Give Protagonism to Your Subjects”.

Clouds as a reinforcement of the message

Clouds as a reinforcement of the message

Frequent Problems With Photographs Of Cloudy Skies

The first thing you must do to solve a problem is to recognize it. So I have prepared a list with the main problems you will encounter when going out to take pictures on cloudy days. So you can start working on them:

Light Intensity: The density of clouds and the amount of clouds directly affects the intensity of light available in the scene. This means that the more stormy the weather. The slower the shutter speeds you should use, the more open the diaphragms, and the higher the ISO sensitivity.

The Contrast Between Lights And Shadows

Although on cloudy days the intensity of light decreases compared to sunny days, getting details in both lights and shadows will be extremely difficult for you. If you plan to include part of a landscape to frame your cloudy skies or other elements. You should pay special attention to how you measure the light in the scene so as not to overexpose the sky or underexpose the rest of the elements. I recommend you take a look at the following article. “Detailed Guide: How to Make a Correct Measurement and Exposure in Your Photographs”.

The colour: the colour of the light on cloudy days tends to be more blue than on sunny days making the colours present in the scene you are going to photograph look more washed. On cloudy days, colors lose saturation and brightness, which can complicate high visual impact photography.

Variable Light: Light conditions will vary constantly depending on the size and density of the clouds. Depending on whether there is sunshine, if a lightning bolt is able to pass through the clouds, or if the sky is completely covered, your task will be affected since you will have to constantly adjust the parameters of the shot to achieve a correct exposure.

Rainfall: the more clouds and the greater the density of clouds, the greater the likelihood that it will begin to rain. Keep this in mind if you don’t want your team to suffer from inclement weather and take the necessary precautions.

Clouds worthy of being portrayed.

Clouds worthy of being portrayed.

How To Get Great Pictures Of A Cloudy Sky?

Now that you know what equipment is needed to take great pictures of cloudy skies, what to keep in mind when choosing a place to take them and the main problems you may encounter, it’s time for me to give you some tips to transform your photos of cloudy skies into great pictures.

1- Add drama: if you want to add drama to a scene, few elements will be as effective as the clouds. These will endow your photographs with mystery, from heaven to earth, so you should not miss the opportunity to include them within your frames, and even make them your protagonists.

2- Set the alarm clock: both sunrise and sunset are the best moments to portray cloudy skies. At these hours the sunlight becomes more intense, of a golden colour and with a lateral direction that adds spectacular tones and contrasts between the clouds and that end up drawing beautiful colours in the sky with incomparable textures.

Stay Until The Early Hours

Be sure to stay until the early hours of the night if you want to make the most of these beautiful skies on cloudy days.

Before Nightfall

Before Nightfall

3- Adjust the white balance: To counteract the loss of color that occurs on cloudy days, it is necessary to adjust the white balance of your camera in order to counteract this effect. You can either try to adjust it manually or select the “cloudy” option (depending on the manufacturer of your camera this option can be called otherwise) within your camera’s default settings. If you have any doubt about the term “white balance” please refer to the following article: “If You Are Frightened by the Term “White Balance” You Need to Read This Article”.

4- Don’t be afraid of underexposure: the differences between the lights and shadows produced when photographing a large sky with a portion of soil or a cloud with respect to another will force you to take your measurements to the limit if you want to obtain correctly exposed photographs. Therefore, in order to get the best possible exposure you must:

Set Your Camera’S Light Metering Mode To Spot

This mode is the most accurate and least automatic of all.

Adjust the exposure compensation to compensate for scenes with strong backlighting. Remember: positive values will “lighten” the picture and negative values will “darken” it. Don’t worry if you can’t master the adjustment quickly, because the secret to doing so is experimenting and practicing. The important thing is that you know that this function exists and that you can use it for the benefit of your photographs.

If possible, shoot in “digital negative” or “RAW” format in order to adjust the parameters of the shot later on the computer.
Anyway, a good practice not to “burn” your pictures of cloudy skies is to under-expose a little the shots until you fully master the technique of “measurement and exposure” of your photographs.

5- Braketing and HDR: an excellent technique that you can use to take your pictures of cloudy skies is the “HDR”. This technique consists of taking high dynamic range photographs which will allow you, by joining several photographs, to obtain details both in the lights and in the shadows. You can do this in two ways: by using the braketing function or manually.

Braketing: is a function in which, when activated, the camera will take a burst of the same photographs but with different levels of exposure: light, medium and dark tones.

Manual: this consists of taking photographs, but since your camera does not have a braketing function, you will have to adjust the exposure values (shutter speed, ISO sensitivity or aperture of the aperture) manually between shots.

Once you have all the shots, you can take an HDR photo directly from the camera (if your camera has this feature built in) or from the computer with some suitable software.

Read This Also

I recommend that you take a look at the following article if you want to get HDR pictures.

6- Encourage yourself to use filters: a polarizing filter, for example, will help you add contrast between clouds and give them a little more definition. Contrary to what you may think, polarizing filters are not only useful on sunny days because they will also help you cut through the fog that occurs when the sun passes through the clouds, making pictures sharper. Neutral density filters will also be very useful if you want to turn clouds into silk cloaks through long exposures.

Cloud Long Exposure

Long exposure with an ND filter (Neutral Density)

7- Protect your equipment well: the more clouds there are in the sky, the greater the chances that a rain will ruin not only your photo session, but also your equipment, if you do not protect it properly. Try to get a good waterproof photo backpack or take some plastic bags with you to protect your camera and lenses.

8- Keep the horizon low: If you want to enhance the sky even more, remember the “rule of the horizon”: the lower you place the horizon within the frame, the more prominence the sky will gain (and vice versa). Depending on whether you want the clouds to be your protagonists or if you want them to be a background element that adds to the drama, you must position the horizon in such a way that it reinforces the message you are trying to convey with your photograph.

Low Horizon

The low horizon gives more prominence to the sky

The low horizon gives more prominence to the sky

9- Be patient: not all clouds are worthy of being portrayed, so you should not go out and photograph as many clouds cross your path. Try to portray interesting clouds that allow you to capture the attention of the spectators or that enhance or reinforce the rest of the elements present in the scene.

10- Add extra elements: in the photograph of cloudy skies, it’s not just about going out to capture a cloud that leaves everyone with their mouth open. The sky is full of objects that you can use in your compositions, do not leave them out.

The sky is full of elements you can use.

Let a few clouds not prevent you from going out to enjoy a spectacular photographic day.

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