How To Capture Dramatic Cloud Photos
Clouds are often an overlooked and ignored part of a scene, and they appear all the time in Landscape photography, so if you learn to incorporate some techniques into your photos you’ll see a remarkable improvement.
Now not all days will give the best results in cloud photography, and obviously when there are no clouds then these tips aren’t any use. Times that are difficult to get good cloud photos are usually days when the sky is overcast and a flat gray without any texture or movement.
The Best Times
Days when the clouds are patchy and there’s gaps for sunrays to shine through make for a dramatic looking photo. Not only do the light rays look spectacular but they also light up parts of your scene which gives a very interesting atmosphere in your photos. These are probably the best times to shoot when the sun appears and disappears behind clouds. So watch out for windy days when there’s some movement in the clouds.
Sunset and sunrise are particularly beautiful times to shoot and you’ll get much more vibrant colours and drama at these times. There will be completely different colours and lighting conditions at sunset and sunrise and the sun will create an orange, blue, pink and yellow hue.
The Benefits of HDR Photos
When there’s strong and interesting lighting this is the best time to utilize HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. For this you’ll need a tripod to keep the camera still because you will be taking a few shots which all need to be in the same place. Next you need to set the camera to auto bracketing and for the settings, -1, 0 and +1 will work well. When you’ve taken the shot you will get three photos all at different exposures and all capturing a different range of shadows and highlights. These can then be combined in editing software to form a high dynamic range of light and colours.
Try a Polarizing Filter
One filter that is really useful for landscapes and clouds is the polarizer. This helps to contrast the clouds with the sky and has the benefit of darkening blue skies and making your photo pop. Polarizers are easy enough to use, you simply screw it into the lens and then rotate the freely moving part of the filter until you get the effect you desire.
ND Graduated Filters
ND grad filters are similar to ND filters which darken the whole image, except ND grads only darken part of the photo, which is usually used for darkening the sky. This is especially useful if the sky is very bright, but also it’s commonly used for an atmospheric, dramatic looking shot.
Long exposures can create a nice smooth and silky look to your cloud photos, but this may not get good results on very windy days because it will remove all shape and form from the sky. So if you want a surreal looking sky then a long exposure will work, but if you want to just capture the clouds as you see them and with more detail then you will need to set a faster shutter speed.
When using long exposures, first you need a tripod to eliminate any camera shake. Next you need to use a slower shutter speed without overexposing your photo which you can achieve by using a narrower aperture (higher f number), and ensuring the ISO is at its lowest. If the shutter speed is still too fast which is common in very bright conditions, you can try using an ND filter to darken it.
Weather can put a big dampener on your day if you’re planning a day of shooting landscapes especially. Some of the worst days for cloud and landscape photography are overcast days with flat grey or white clouds with no shape or form to them. This also makes the landscape look dull with very little saturation to the scene. But if you’ve been shooting for a long time and have a lot of experience in this area of photography then you may be able to get some amazing photos on these days, and some of the most spectacular cloud images were shot in bad weather.
If you want your photos to really stand out then editing your photos in post processing is an important step that can always benefit your photos however good they already appear. For example you could play with the contrast or levels to add more drama to your photos, and if you take your photos in RAW format, you have much more room to tweak your photos in Photoshop or other software.