If you’re into landscape photography then you will almost certainly know that clouds can have a massive impact on the atmosphere and beauty of a shot. Whether they are wispy and light cirrus clouds or thick and smoky cumulus, a cloudy day is often the perfect time to pull out the camera. But how do you photograph clouds to get the perfect result? Let’s take a look at some methods you will want to learn and also take a look at some stunning examples!
Let’s Talk Lighting and Camera Filters
Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of getting a great cloud photograph is the fact that often, clouds will emit a large variance of light. From the deep dark greys of a storm cloud, you might find that the edges are bright white, especially if the sun is behind the cloud. This can make it difficult to meter the light. If you’re shooting digital, then it won’t be so much of a problem as you can see the results instantly and know if you’ve over or under exposed the shot. You can minimise the chances of getting it wrong by getting your filters right though.
The first thing you are going to need is a graduated neutral density filter. This will help you to expose the clouds well without overdoing the highlights. It will also help in situations with a bright sky and darker background. It will also make post-processing a lot less painful. Photoshop is great, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you get the shot right when you’re shooting it!
If you really want to bring out the fine detail within the clouds (and you probably will) then you might also consider a polarising filter. This will help with the contrast within the clouds and against the sky if it’s showing.
Consider a sky filter to offset the bluishness that often happens when shooting clouds too. Sure, it can be fixed in Photoshop, but again – it’s better to get as much right as possible before you even upload your images to your computer.
If you are shooting in the golden hours (which you usually should be), then you will probably also need a tripod depending on the overall lighting conditions. Check out our guide on choosing a tripod because keeping your camera steady is almost always going to be an issue when you’re shooting clouds.
A change of scenery by kevindooley, on Flickr
What About Composition?
First up, you’ll need to remember the rule of thirds. That is especially true for landscape photographers. With that in mind you will probably want to predetermine what the main focus of your image is going to be. Clouds can really either dominate an image or they can enhance the background. Decide which you want to do.
If you want your sky to be the main focus of them image then try to compose it so that it takes up the top two thirds of the frame. This will put the focus of the composition firmly on the clouds. You would usually do this if the clouds were very dramatic when you’re shooting. A brewing storm, a large repeated pattern of clouds – something interesting about the clouds themselves.
If you want the clouds to enhance an existing landscape as the background, then you are going to want only the top one third of the shot to be sky. This puts the focus on the landscape first and the clouds second.
Be careful with foreground elements. Usually you will not want to clutter the foreground with visual elements in a clouded landscape, but at times it can be ok to frame the shot with something like a tree or tree branch.
Ruixat by gilles chiroleu, on Flickr
What Cloud Photos Need in Post-processing
Even if you have followed all of the above guidelines in getting your cloud photos, they are probably still going to need a little bit of work in whichever post processing software you use (or the darkroom if you’re old school).
In Photoshop of GIMP, you will probably want to play ever so lightly with the levels and saturation. You might also need to adjust the hue slightly, especially if you weren’t using camera filters.
With these adjustments, often you will only need to work on the clouds and sky with minimal adjustments for the other parts of the image – especially if you have taken care with your preparation and shooting.
More Great Examples of How to Photograph Clouds
field storm by davedehetre, on Flickr
Jurassic Gargoyle, Dorset by flatworldsedge, on Flickr
The Entrance by nattu, on Flickr
Operation desert storm by kevindooley, on Flickr
serenity by archangel_raphael, on Flickr
Brightening by Nicholas_T, on Flickr
Ailsa Craig by atomicjeep, on Flickr
beautiful weather by muha…, on Flickr
Wow, those are really gorgeous shots! Sometimes, it seems like outdoor photography is 30% luck with weather and sky. I've spent a lot of time trying to get good cloud photos – check these out! https://www.flickr.com/photos/outdoorsie/sets/72…
It seems I will have to invest in a neutral density filter soon, they seem very useful. I went to the lead photo on flickr and faved it instantly.
Beautiful pictures of clouds, Congratulations.
Beautiful pictures. congratulations.
I am definitely going to invest in some filters for my camera. And do some post processing as well.
My cloud collection streches over many years of photographing them and I never used a neutral density filter. I'll buy one next time I visit my camera dealer. You have some beautiful stuff.
Oh, they were beautiful, all of them.
Wonderful photos of clouds, They are one of my favorite subjects, becaus they are all different.
these are terrific, thanks mate!
I loved the cloud photos. Fabulous. I love taking photos of clouds and then painting from them.
My problem is getting true colors. I want to paint an accurate representation and that is hard when the photos don't turn out accurate in color.
I may try the neutral density filter to see if that works.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the note on Twitter. This is quite a collection of dramatic images you've assembled.
Great photos, each one a piece of art.
I invite you to visit my blog if you like.
I never thought it made sense to photograph clouds – they were so changing and ethereal like a memory. But these photos changed my mind. Thank you for the tips and the stunning photo examples
Great stuff! Thanks for the guidance and the sharing of the great images!
Excellent information, and photos
I love your cloud photo's, I wish to try taking my own for a photography class in college, but one thing I don't know is what I would set my camera on for Aperture and shutter speed. I have a Cannon Rebal and I need to do it all manualy. Maybe you could comment back to me and let me know.
Beautiful and very informative. Thank you.
Lori Rask Image Design
Beautiful and very informative. Thank you!!
After telling us to only use slight tweaks, you give us a little gallery of way over-processed pseudo-HDR images. They are nice, they are paintings. They aren't what you are talking about.
Dance it off, girlfriend.
Show us a single published photo in the history of photography that hasn't been worked in the darkroom or photoshop.
how many of these pictures are photshopped? I mean these are beautiful, are they normal pics with out the photos enhanced?
From a non-photography perspective
& who simply enjoys beauty:
Wow…awesome series. Because we see clouds every day, we tend to take them for granted. But these shots remind us how wondrous and fantastic they really are.
Thanks for putting these together.
Yeah, I think sometimes we get a little caught up in the technical side of photography wondering about composition and technical concerns. Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and admit that even though a photo may not be technically perfect, hey I like it!
I really love these photographs, but lets be fair, how many are these are HDR images?
Thanks for the article. I’ve been wondering about this as we’ve had some pretty spectacular clouds of late.
I’ve managed to tick two boxes (circular polarising filter and tripod) but may need to get myself a graduated ND filter and possibly a sky filter now. *sigh* more toys to buy 😉
These are very nice images. The images by Garry and ViaMoi are truly superb and really stand out. Some of the others really are highly processed, several are noticeably so. While that’s fine to do, it is not the “slight tweaking” that the article is describing.
I’d recommend being more considerate and thoughtful when people like Steve point out such things instead of being flippant and dismissive. What he’s saying is accurate, makes sense and shouldn’t be taken as an offense. It doesn’t take away from the great work you’re posting to acknowledge he has a valid point, such points thoughtfully considered can make good site even better.
I have some examples of natural and highly processed cloudscapes in my portfolio:
in my Landscapes gallery. Both approaches can work well depending on the image and intent.
Okay it’s time to go buy some filters and stop relying so heavily on Photoshop. This was a very inspiring read.
Very timely article and pictures. I have recently attempted to take some cloud pictures with only so-so success. I now feel that I will get better pictures in the future due to your help.
Garry that last photo with the whale bones is phenomenal! Where was it taken?
This is a cloud photo that I am proud of. Lake Norman in North Carolina. Beautiful place.
Very very cool! Even a point and shoot with flat clouds can look cool with the right light, I’ve found.
Wonderfull photos ! congratulations and thanks !
Gorgeous photos! And thanks for the tips. The one thing that always looks “off” in my photos is the sky. I just returned from Africa and really wish I had read this post before hand.
Excellent article and wonderful images.
excellent images—i’m always taking pictures of clouds—-
thanks for the info…………….
Wow! I am striving to becoming a photographer that takes pictures like the ones I see on this site! These cloud ones are beautiful!
here is a unique and totally natural photo of a Dragon Cloud, taken just after a winter storm here on the north coast of British Columbia Canada near Prince Rupert–this cloud is just the way nature made it!!
ops forgot to put my flickr link to dragon cloud photo
Excellent work & … Congratulations !
The beauty of clouds is forever.
I always thought my desire to take photos of cloud formations was unnatural: “Who wants to look at clouds?” I want to invest in a few filters, but this definitely gave me a reason to start taking pictures of pretty clouds I see!
Nice article and nice pictures.
Clouds and sky are always a good object.
Just come home after photographing the most wonderful sunset, opened my mail and wished I had checked BEFORE I went out.
FANTASTIC! I’LL TRY TOO
THANKS FOR ALL THE GOOD ADVICE
That is a fab picture, love any clouds
I’m paul (dex) on Flickr – took the lead photo
first off I’d like to thank you for including my 2 images, and I’d like to say that regardless if people like post processed images or not, the advice given is very sound – I’ve learned many things the hard way
secondly: what difference does it make if it’s processed or not? what’s important is if you like what you see. the technical side should be a personal opinion and stated as such – don’t try to impose your point of view: ‘if it’s not “natural” is invalid’… what some people call ‘natural’ I call manufacturer’s taste or hardware limitations – if the camera gives me over or underexposed areas I’d like to fix the issues and stay as close as possible to the scene left in my mind when I shot it, or at least end up with a visually pleasing scene (pleasing for my taste – if others like my taste even better)
I take “minimal adjustments” (or “slight tweaking”) as a general expression that leaves the doors open to personal tastes and translates into “express yourself”, or “you be the judge of what’s appropriate for your particular image” – again: positive advice that doesn’t create any constrains
I’m not being defensive: personally I think that most of my images are barely acceptable. also, I have nothing to gain – all my shots are free, and it doesn’t affect me too much if people see them or not – my flickr pix are my journeys and memories – my personal album, and I chose to make it public; I just wanted to show purists that few things are pure, and to each his own
Nice. I’m just about to buy an ND filter. Cant wait to use it!
The pictures seen on this screen of clouds are absolutely beautiful. Thank you for all of the insight and information. Looking forward to see more and will utilize any and all information to create my outlook of clouds.