You may already have your own method of effectively shooting cloud photos. If so then you understand that conditions may vary greatly. Some days, your photos may turn out happy and light. On other days they may turn out dull and grey. However, there are at least three techniques you might consider in order to capture better sky and cloud photos.
Shoot when the sun is brightest and cloud movement is dynamic
The best time to photograph an epic cloud shot is when the sun is at its brightest and is directly appearing and disappearing from behind the clouds. The above photograph was shot on a day in Prague when the clouds were particularly dynamic. It was windy so the clouds kept hiding and revealing the face of the bright sun.
Below is an example of why shooting when the sun is directly behind the clouds may be more compelling. Although the clouds in the photo below are interesting, the result is not as mysterious or as epic in my opinion as the one above. This is of course a matter of personal preference. Be patient, observe the situation and find out, which you like better.
Wait for sunset to capture vibrant colors
Many different techniques come into play when you want to photograph sky and clouds of different colors, but one of the more important factors to consider is the time of day. Sunset is the easiest time to capture vibrant colors. The reason is that as the sun goes down on the horizon, the sky and clouds will take on various hues of pink, orange, yellow and blue. The above photo was shot in Los Angeles where the sunset colors change every few minutes. At first, the clouds turned a bright orange and yellow.
Compare this to the photo below, where just a few moments later, some of the clouds cleared, the sky became a lighter blue and the remaining clouds turned reddish pink.
By shooting clouds during sunset you will be able to capture a variety of unique colors.
Shoot on a tripod and bracket exposures to produce different moods
If you’re shooting with a DSLR, I recommend using a tripod and taking multiple photos in “Auto bracketing mode” or “Auto exposure mode”.
First, set your camera to Aperture Priority and then turn on Auto bracketing (AEB). It’s best to set your bracket exposures to -1, 0, and +1. This will give you three pictures of the clouds at various exposures. The three photos below were shot at -1, 0 and +1 exposures. Notice how distinctive they are in terms of mood.
If you prefer, you can combine all three to create an HDR photo, which aggregates all the details from the different exposures. You may then edit the HDR photo to produce a photo with your own desired mood.
What other tips can you think of for shooting great cloud photos?
Do you ever shoot during thunderstorms? What’s the best cloud photo you’ve ever shot, and in what conditions? Share with us some examples and of course, if you have any other tips for great cloud photos that you think I’ve missed, please share those as well.