Send In The Clouds

Clouds can often be as important as the key element in the landscape
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Clouds can be integral components of landscape photographs. They provide dramatic color at sunrise and sunset, they take a featureless blue sky and add interest, they add shadows and highlights to the environment, and they impart mystery to impending storms. As nice as clear sunrises and sunsets can be, there's nothing like the drama of colorfully painted skies or carefully placed cumulus or lenticular clouds. They can often be as important as the key element in the landscape.

FAIR WEATHER: Fair-weather clouds add interest to blank blue skies. As mornings progress, fair weather clouds begin to billow. It's at this point when they make the best subjects. When they get too thick, they cover too much blue and result in a lack of color and contrast. When using them in a composition, be patient and wait for the wind to carry them into areas that help balance the composition.

STORM EDGES: As storms draw near, banks of clouds roll in and leave the sky dreary and dull. But on the cusp of the incoming storm, cloud structures are often quite dramatic. Sometimes seen as cotton-ball patterns, they add a lot of drama to images. The same holds true for clearing storms. The air is refreshed and clean. Log on to your laptop or smart phone to get radar images of the area in which you're photographing. If you are able to time it right, you'll get some winners.

RISE + SET: When I run my photo tour to the Oregon coast and there are no clouds in the sky, my tag line is, "The coast is clear." Yet I'd prefer to talk about a magnificent cloud-filled sky. Shooting into the setting sun with nothing to diffuse its brightness causes flare. It's also associated with a lack of color or drama in the sky. When the right amount of clouds is coupled with clear skies below the horizon, the sky can go electric. It's situations like these that make the color equally as important as the foreground subject.

EQUIPMENT AND TECHNICAL ASPECTS: There's no magic lens or focal length to use when shooting clouds. Let your pre-visualized composition determine how you frame the image. With regards to filters, use a polarizer to punch up the contrast of the sky and cloud patterns. When shooting sunset, use a filter that adds warmth. With regards to exposure, take a meter reading to the left or right of the sun. If you include it, you'll end up with dark photos.



    Yes, In addition to a polarizer, or graduated ND filter,It would be interesting to know what basic post processing techniques or steps can help to best bring out the clouds in a captured image. Steps to maximize color, contrast etc, can go beyond brushing in highlights, masking, dodging and burning. The fine line between an accurate rendition and overcoming camera weakness, without over-processing is a craft to be mastered.

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