Cloudy day in Rome

Don’t Put Your Camera Away on a Cloudy Day

A cloudless plain blue sky is like a flowerless garden. – Terri Guillemets

Cloudy day in Rome? No problem. Have you ever been on a trip, woke up in the morning ready to explore the area and take some photos, looked out the window and … surprise: dark grey clouds instead of the glowing sun? Don’t let these days ruin your vacation. Grab the camera and go.

When shooting outdoors, aim for the golden hour (shortly after sunrise and before sunset, as a rule of thumb). Avoid shooting in bright sunlight. Avoid cloudy days. Avoid shooting in the rain, because the camera and you will get wet and damaged. I’m sure you’ve heard these many times. They are all partly true

Bright sunlight will create hard shadows which may compete with the main subject. Cloudy days will make your photos look flat, they will have no depth. As I mentioned in one of my older posts, light alone has no depth. You need shadows to create depth. During rainy days, going outside with the camera is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, I agree. But I have a suggestion. Why not try breaking all these rules? I hate rules anyway. I like to experience different scenarios and sometimes I am really pleased with the outcome.

Right now, I will not be talking about shooting in the rain or in bright sunlight, as these will be the subject of future articles. I will talk about clouds. Not necessarily about the pretty cumulus white clouds, but the dark, stormy ones.

I have taken many interesting fall foliage pictures including vibrant autumn colors against the deep blue sky and sometimes reflected in the water. But I also have some striking shots on cloudy and rainy days. The shot below is an example. This was just pure luck. It happened that, as I was getting ready to press the shutter button, a ray of sunshine came through the dark clouds.

Same thing happened in the other photo, which I took in Sedona, AZ.

Capturing dark clouds can be a little tricky. You have to adjust the exposure properly, so the sky will not be washed out. This is one of the reasons why some photographers avoid including the sky on cloudy days. I typically meter at the sky and then recompose the shot. It’s one of the easiest ways, but you can also underexpose by 1 or 2 stops. Sometimes you may end up with a silhouette, but it’s okay as long as the shape is recognizable and interesting.

Another way to ensure you capture dramatic clouds is to take HDR photos. I am not a huge fan of this type of photography but it may help in this shooting scenario. You can read more about HDR photography here.

I hope this article will change the way you think about cloudy and stormy days. With a little creativity, you could end up with a lot of interesting and dramatic shots; even of landmarks that would be rather boring in pitch perfect, sunny days. And who knows, you may even see the sun shine as you push the shutter button. Try it for yourself and remember to share your shots with the Balcony.

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photographynow available at Amazon.

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