You might be wondering that a clear day with no clouds could be better to photograph some beautiful landscapes. While this could be true, there is something truly magical and dramatic about clouds, that they can completely change the mood of a landscape and give them a different meaning and perspective.
For example, if you are photographing a sunset or a sunrise, the image looks dramatic and colorful (fiery to be precise), when there are puffy or stormy clouds in the sky, as the sun rays pierce through them, while, sunset/sunrise in a clear sky can look boring.
Image by Josh Sorenson
Clouds can enhance any landscape and give a boost to its composition. Depending on how you are using clouds, follow the rule of thirds to compose the image. If the clouds are the main subject, frame the horizon on the lower third and if you are using clouds to enhance the landscape, frame the horizon on the upper third. Either way, the clouds need to be exposed correctly.
Image by 12019
Here are some tips for photographing dynamic and dramatic clouds which are an important element in most landscape photographs.
Use Of Filters: When you have a large variation in light between the land and the sky, try a graduated neutral density filter (ND Grad). This will help to expose for the sky and the land correctly (dark portion of filter over the sky) although it can be tricky for uneven horizons.
Another filter that can make your clouds pop is a circular polarising filter that can be fitted to the front of your lens. Rotate the filter 'till you see the desired effect through the viewfinder (do not overdo it). This filter can help deepen the saturation of the sky, avoid unwanted light from entering the lens and make your clouds stand out.
Note: A polarising filter has maximum effect on the sky that is 90 degrees to the sun (keep the sun to your left or right).
Short or Long Exposures: If you are in a situation where the clouds are moving quite fast and you want to freeze action and capture the clouds as they are, crisp and clear, use a short exposure time. In order to get better textures and details in the clouds, you can experiment by reducing the shutter speed by a stop or two. This will give you clouds such as those in the image immediately above.
On the other hand, if you want a surreal effect in the sky, use long exposure to capture the movement (very low iso and a narrow aperture). When this doesn’t help on a very bright day, capture the dynamic cloud features using a neutral density filter. This helps increase the exposure time. You can see this effect in this image below:
Exposure Bracketing: When there are high tonal ranges in the scene or just in the sky, in order to avoid heavy shadows or blown out highlights, try bracketing exposures (-1, 0 and +1) and later combining these to create an image with the correct exposure and mood. Most cameras have Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature that can be used efficiently in Aperture priority mode.
Image by Fotocitizen
Important Tip: Do not stay away from bad weather, because some of the best cloud formations and phenomena happen on a stormy day! For dark and gloomy skies, get out on a stormy day and for a bright, warm and happy sky, get out on a day when the sky is blue with patches of clouds.
If you are interested in maximising the wow-factor of your clouds and skies, there are several Lightroom Presets in our Pop Pack that work quite well with skies. Take a look at some examples here.
What We Recommend for Landscape Photography
Want to really hone down your landscape photography skills? Then these are the premium resources that will take you there if you put in the work to follow them.