How to Get Great Photos of a Cloudy Sky

Many photographers believe that good photos cannot be taken on cloudy days and many others believe that there is no better situation to go out and take photos than with a cloudy sky. The truth is that everyone is as wrong as right in such claims.

There are no ideal conditions to take pictures, what exist are opportunities for you to exploit them with your camera and your knowledge.

Whether it is a day in full sun, a cloudy day, with fog, with rain or even with a lot of snow, what will allow you to take an excellent photograph is the way you work your shots, the light in them and the elements with which they are taken. forms.

In today’s article you will learn how to take magnificent photos of a cloudy sky, starting from understanding what the main problems are when doing so, and then giving them a solution.

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

And if you want to delve into the nature photography, this is our most complete guide, with tips, tricks and lots of inspiration.

The equipment needed to photograph clouds

  • The camera: To take pictures of clouds it is not necessary that you have a super sophisticated camera, much less, since with almost any camera you can achieve excellent photographs. Of course, in order to capture the clouds in all their magnificence, your camera must have manual shooting mode.
  • The objective: There is no 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.
  • The 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, do not forget to keep them in your backpack to use them in your next shots.
  • The tripod: It is always essential in low light conditions, or if you want to take long exposure photographs. If you’re looking to photograph clouds at twilight, or want to capture a few lightning bolts in a thunderstorm, don’t forget to carry your tripod with you.
  • Remote Switch: If you want to take long-exposure photographs with a tripod, it will not be enough for you since, when you press the shutter button, you can end up moving the camera yourself. Therefore, to minimize the risks of blurred photographs, try to get a remote shutter release so that you can minimize the shake as much as possible.
  • Others: try to bring fully charged batteries, empty memory cards, a good backpack and, depending on where you are going to take your shots, protectors for your camera and your backpack in case the clouds turn into storms and a cleaning kit in case drops or dust dirty your camera and lenses.
Don’t forget anything you might miss later.

The places

In the photography of cloudy skies, how could it be otherwise, the protagonist is the clouds. The problem arises when it comes to surrounding your protagonist with elements that can reinforce his presence and help you give your photographs greater strength.

These elements can be from the sky and other clouds, to birds, trees, and any other element that you consider appropriate to find the photograph you are looking for. When it comes to photographing cloudy skies, you should not focus only on them, but you can use whatever resources and elements you find at hand so that the messages that your photographs transmit are more effective.

The sky will always be there and with a little patience you will find some clouds worthy of being portrayed, but it is very important that when you do it, you are clear with what other elements you will surround them with (if you do) to help them gain greater prominence. inside the frame.

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

Clouds as reinforcement of the message

Common cloudy sky photography problems

The first thing you should do to solve a problem is recognize it, so I have prepared a list with the main problems you will come across when going out to take pictures on cloudy days, so you can start working on them:

  • Light intensity: Cloud density and quantity directly affect the intensity of light available in the scene. This means that the stormier the weather, the slower the shutter speeds you should use, the wider the apertures, and the higher the ISO sensitivity.
  • The contrast between light and shadow: despite the fact that on cloudy days the intensity of the light decreases compared to sunny days, obtaining details in both highlights 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’ll need to pay special attention to how you meter the light in the scene so you don’t overexpose the sky or underexpose other elements. I recommend that you take a look at the following article: “Detailed Guide: How to Make a Correct Measurement and Exposure in Your Photographs”.
  • The color: the color of light on cloudy days tends to be bluer than on sunny days making the colors present in the scene you are shooting appear more washed out. On cloudy days, colors lose saturation and brightness, which can make it difficult to achieve high-impact photos.
  • variable light: light conditions will vary constantly depending on the size and density of the clouds. Depending on whether there is sun, if a ray manages to penetrate 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.
  • The rains: the greater the amount of clouds and the greater the density of these, the greater the chances that it will start 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.

How to get great photos of a cloudy sky?

Now that you know what equipment is necessary to take magnificent photographs of cloudy skies, what you should take into account when choosing a place to take them, and the main problems that you may come across, the time has come for us to give some tips to transform your photos of cloudy skies into magnificent photographs.

1. Add drama

If what you want is to add drama to a scene, few elements will be as effective as clouds. These will endow your photographs with mystery, from heaven to earth, so you should not miss the opportunity to include them in your frames, and even make them your protagonists.

2. Set the alarm clock

Both sunrise and sunset are the best times to capture cloudy skies. At that time the sunlight becomes more intense, golden in color and with a lateral direction that adds spectacular tones and contrasts between the clouds and that end up drawing beautiful colors and unparalleled textures on the sky. Be sure to stay until the early evening hours if you want to get the most out of these beautiful skies on cloudy days.

before dark

3. Adjust white balance

To counteract the color fading that occurs on cloudy days, you need to adjust your camera’s white balance to counteract this effect. You can try to adjust it manually or select the “cloudy” option (depending on the manufacturer of your camera this option may be called something else) within the default settings of your camera. If you have any doubts about the term “white balance” be sure to consult the following article: “If the Term “White Balance” Scares You, You Need to Read This Article”.

4. Don’t be afraid of underexposure

The differences between the lights and shadows that occur when photographing a large sky with a piece of land or a cloud with respect to another will force you to push your measurements to the limit if you want to obtain correctly exposed photographs. Therefore, to obtain the best possible exposure you should:

  • Set your camera’s light metering mode to spot (this mode is the most accurate and least automatic of all).
  • Adjust exposure compensation to compensate for scenes with strong backlighting. Remember: positive values ​​will “lighten” the photo and negative values ​​will “darken” it. Don’t worry if you can’t get the hang of this setting quickly, as the secret to doing so is to experiment and practice. The important thing is that you know that this function exists and that you can use it for the benefit of your photographs.
  • Shoot, whenever possible, in “digital negative” or “RAW” format in order to adjust the parameters of the shot later on the computer.

Anyway, a good practice to avoid “burning” your cloudy sky photos is to underexpose the shots a little until you completely master the technique of “metering and exposing” your photos.

5. Bracketing and HDR

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

  • Bracketing: is a function in which, when activated, the camera will take a burst of the same photos but with different levels of exposure: light, medium and dark tones.
  • Manual: It consists of taking the photographs but, since you do not have the braketing function in your camera, you will have to adjust the exposure values ​​(shutter speed, ISO sensitivity or diaphragm opening) manually between shots.

Once you have all the shots, you can take an HDR photograph directly from the camera (if your camera has this function incorporated) or from the computer with some suitable software.

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

6. Dare to use filters

A polarizing filter, for example, will help you add contrast between the clouds and give them a bit more definition. Contrary to what you may think, polarizing filters are not only useful on sunny days, as they will also help you cut the haze that occurs when the sun breaks through the clouds, achieving sharper photographs. Neutral density filters will also come in handy if you want to turn clouds into blankets…