On a cloudy day


We have had more than our fair share of grey days recently (50 shades of Grey?) The PM 2.5 air pollution has meant we didn’t get to see the clouds, but clear days are coming!

This week I want you to look up in the skies and start putting together a portfolio of cloud formations. The reason for this is just that having choices of cloud formations can elevate a very ordinary shot into something quite dramatic.

How do you photograph skies and clouds?

You can never have too many photographs of clouds, skies, sunsets and sunrises. No longer do you have to wait for the weather to be interesting to make a truly spectacular image. As long as you have plenty of cloud formations in your cloud portfolio, you can simply Photoshop the sky right in!

Here are the best tips for photographing clouds and sky photos, but be warned, this will make you use your filters and fiddle with ISO levels. And all your lenses, telephoto zooms, wide angle lenses, general lenses, and zooms. Learn how to get photographic panoramas, and as I have written many times shoot them both in portrait mode and landscape. But mostly shoot them wide and get as much into one scene as possible. You can always crop and resize as you wish later on. This is how you get blue skies in Bangkok – pack as much sky as you can into your 35 mm frame. Wide angle is the way to go.

What kinds of cloud should you have in your cloud portfolio? Photograph all types of clouds. Dark angry clouds always look good, fluffy clouds have the best updrafts for glider pilots, Cirrus and Cumulus and Cumulo-Nimbus if you know how to identify them – remember these are for your cloud portfolio, so you don’t need to name them – it’s how they look that is important. Overcast days, sunny days, rainy days, just keep shooting whenever you see a dramatic sky formation.

You can photograph your clouds at any time, at sunset, sunrise, midday or even midnight (but you’ll need a tripod).

Set your camera’s setting to 100-200 ISO. Personally I use 200 ISO for just about everything. That way you are not likely to be troubled with digital camera ‘noise’.

Next, use a polarizing filter to help bring out as much detail as possible and get rid of reflections.

Keep photographing clouds and the sky from every direction in reference to the sun and lighting as well. When you insert a new sky in post-production, the lighting on the main subject needs to match the lighting on the sky. After all, you want it to appear believable.

Set your aperture wide but make sure you are focused at the lowest aperture f-number possible. A sky or cloud formation is so far away your camera aperture setting becomes virtually unimportant. You can even try A for Automatic. Just make sure the camera is focusing on the actual sky and not a nearby tree.

The reason for having this portfolio of clouds and skies is because inserting an appropriate cloud formation can actually rescue an entire photo-shoot and re-shooting commercially can be expensive if there are models (‘talent’) involved. You never know when you will need a sky background. Get in the habit of regularly photographing clouds and skies and making your portfolio.

For many weekend photographers, you can shoot like the pros, no matter what the weather is like – provided you know how to insert the sky in post-production. Go to a class or photography club and a whole new world will open for you.

Constant practice will result in believable pictures. Start this weekend.