Clouds vs. Sun

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The clouds were beneficial in both circumstances.


The word “photography” is made up of two parts; “photo” meaning light and “graphy” meaning to write. In essence, when one takes a picture, he or she is writing with light. When photographed under different lighting conditions, the same subject looks totally different.

Ideally, I’d love to bottle the golden, low-angle light of sunrise or sunset and have it appear at my beckoned demand every time I switch my camera to the ON position. But too often the moving of the switch coincides with thick gray clouds, high thin ones, inclement weather, noon time overhead sun, or other less desirable conditions. Imagine a coyote bathed in the golden light of sunrise. The result of this is buffers filling at record rates. Put that same coyote in the same location on a bright sunny day at noon, and the sound of firing shutters lessens considerably due to the harsh light. But now imagine a passing cloud that temporarily softens the light. The number of clicking shutters falls somewhere in between that of sunrise and the noon scenario.

The point being is learn how to use the light you’re given. A clear sky doesn’t always provide the most desirable light. While it’s great to have bright sun at sunrise and sunset, it’s better to have soft light if you’re “forced” to do midday shooting. I use the term “forced” loosely in that if I’m in Yellowstone and it’s a cloudy day, I’m driving the roads and photographing the wildlife the entire day. If it’s bright and sunny, the midday harsh light reduces my chances of getting a great photo. I refer to this as an “unfortunately/fortunately” phenomenon. Unfortunately the light for the sunrise scenic is not there, but fortunately, I can look for wildlife for the entire day and visa versa.

Subjects that are wonderful to shoot in bright overcast conditions are flowers, people, details, muted colors, and forests. Direct sunlight, especially early and late in the day, is fabulous for landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, patterns, textures and shapes. Study the light. Photograph the subjects that have potential. Don’t force the issue. Study the angle of light. When you’re out in the field, transfer this newly acquired knowledge to every subject you encounter.