Cloud Photography

Cloud Photography


How to take advantage of what is right above you.

The sky is the single most abstract and dynamic canvas that a photographer has at his disposal. It is an endless source of inspiration that can change a boring photo into one of tremendous interest.

Sweet Home Under White Clouds - by tipiro

Sweet Home Under White Clouds - by tipiro

The sky is a key element in almost all landscape photos and if you can’t get it just right the entire photo will suffer. The problem is that it is often very difficult to properly expose the sky and the ground at the same time.

By turning to tools such as graduated neutral density filters or bracketing photographers have been able to perfectly expose photos right on the camera, however, this isn’t always possible given circumstance.

furthermore, the sky itself doesn’t always behave. Sometimes you show up for that shoot and the sky is boring and uninteresting. Other times the sky simply does not convey the right mood. Sometimes an image needs a new sky.

Shoot the sky when it is interesting

singleCarry your camera everywhere with you and always make a point to look up to the sky as you go about your daily routine. If the clouds are doing something interesting. Take a picture of them.

Begin to create a collection of cloud photos that you save for later use. The clouds don’t have to always be wickedly cool or on a vibrant sky but it is important to build a diverse collection.

These photos, while often are interesting enough to become stand alone images they truly shine when used to augment something else.

Tricks to shooting great clouds

  • Make sure that you shoot more of the sky than you need. It is easy to crop in later if necessary.
  • Slightly underexpose the image. The sky is notoriously bright during the day. Overexposed clouds tend to look goofy. You can always fix up the exposure later in post processing.
  • Get creative, clouds are very abstract try interesting things with them. Long exposure times. Wild Filters. Go Nuts!
  • Watch out for things in the sky. While they can always be removed later it is annoying when a bird or plane is in the middle of your frame.

How to make certain skies more interesting

Even though the sky is almost always interesting to a degree, sometimes you want to make it that much more compelling. This can easily be done in Photoshop.


cheerycloudsEveryone likes bouncy soft clouds. They can make a scene feel more fun and energetic. Cheery clouds are characterized by smooth white tones in the clouds set upon a vivid blue backdrop.


energeticcloudsClouds can also look very interesting when given tension.

This can easily be achieved by framing the clouds at a unique and compelling angle.


antiquecloudsThey have nearly become a cliche but they are also very effective.

Antique clouds can perfectly help frame all sorts of interesting photos. Antique clouds tend to be moody and work best in a more overcast sky.


mutedcloudsYou could also consider them boring clouds. However they are also very useful when you simply want to add texture.

Muted clouds are characterized by less bold lines and lower contrast.


ominouscloudsYou can also add powerful emotion to a piece with more rugged and defined clouds.

These clouds tend to feel foreboding and can really add tension to a composition. Ominous clouds looks best when the clouds themselves have high contrast and often are very dark. Such as before a storm

From Above

cloudsfromaboveDid I mentioned that you should take your camera everywhere?

This includes on an airplane. Clouds look really cool from above.

Getting Creative

stylizedcloudsOnce in Photoshop you can either let your clouds remain realistic or you can easily change them dramatically to add another dimension to their abstraction.

This will usually depend on the style of image you are aiming for in the final piece but given how abstract clouds are it is very easy to vastly change them without ruining their effect.

Don’t be afraid to really experiment, the worst possible outcome would be starting over but the rewards can be infinite.

Things you can do to clouds to make them more abstract

  • Add extreme color of any type. We are used to seeing clouds with sky blue as a back drop. They also look good with most other colors of the spectrum.
  • Give them movement. Add motion or radial blurs to simulate movement.
  • Warp them. Given that clouds have no predefined shape you can use tools such as liquefy to mold them to your desired shape.
  • Add things to them. Birds, rainbows, and lightning can all add an interesting twist.

You have shot your clouds… Now what?

upTake advantage of them. As mentioned above you can’t always count on the sky to deliver it’s best performance when you are taking your pictures.

Next time you have a photo that you think could have been amazing but just isn’t quite right consider how it would look with a new sky.

Look through your collection of clouds and find the perfect sky to match your photo. Just make sure the sky you have chosen fits with the image you are giving it to.

Things to watch out for when adding a new sky

Make sure to cut out the original photo well. A halo of the old sky can look really weird.

Instead of completely replacing the old sky, consider blending it with the new sky to make things look more natural.

Make sure the lighting matches. It would look really weird if you add a sky behind a mountain with the sun in it but the shadows on the mountain imply the sun is behind the photographer.

Match the tones so that the entire image has similar saturation, brightness, and contrast. It needs to look natural.

Other cool tricks

  • You can vastly increase the size of the sky. For example, in the image above the original sky looked fairly good but it was cut off by the end of the frame. By adding a new sky I was able to use one that was much taller and thus make the picture more interesting with a taller aspect ratio.
  • You don’t always have to replace a sky. Perhaps you photo doesn’t have any sky in it. But it does have some water or other reflective surfaces. Create an interesting reflection.
  • Layer skies. If done well, and carefully, you can layer several skies together by blending them and create a compelling effect.
  • Transform them. Flip and rotate them. A sky doesn’t always look it’s best right off the camera. Find the angle that best benefits the final image.


Clouds are a great and fun canvas to work with. They inspire creativity and help expand your ability as a photographer. The greatest strength of the sky is it is endless in it’s abstraction and thus is only limited by your imagination.

ryan_cooper_icon.jpgRyan Cooper is the founder and president of jitZul.

jitZul is an online resource and company dedicated to helping aspiring artists market and monetize their creative talent so that they can turn their passion into a career.

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Some Older Comments

  • Ashiq P.M. December 2, 2012 05:30 pm

    I took this one on board

  • Pilgrim Photographer December 30, 2011 11:16 pm

    Here is an example of the typical problem I have (burned out sky)

  • Photographer of the World December 30, 2011 11:14 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Sometimes I manage to take some good skies:
    but not always...

  • Salahuddin Ahmad Photography March 7, 2011 10:16 am

    Very well done. Lot to learn from here. Here are some from my work (hope that it will be helpful)

    [eimg link='' title='The Wind of Change' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Cirrus stream over Melbourne CBD' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Storm Passing over Melbourne CBD [Tonemapped] [Explored Dec 11, 2010]' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='The Footscray Footbridge' url='']

    Thanks for watching.

  • Marc February 17, 2011 01:22 am

    I like your picture, "sweet home under white clouds". It almost makes it where your not looking at the sky from the ground, your looking down from above the clouds, and the sun symbolizes the, "home" under white clouds. I was wondering why it is that you chose to use that timing to take the picture and not at sunset, over all I think it was a great picture because it definitely showed symbolism and meaning behind the clouds. :)

  • Harriet Williams September 6, 2010 02:21 am

    Took this picture when i was walking my dog one evening, just in the local park.. thought the clouds and the colouring looking amazing!

    Let me know what you think :)
    [eimg url='' title='PICT2666.jpg']

  • Matt March 26, 2010 03:05 am

    I got these after a storm last year.
    Not sure if I shot them well but I will let you all tell me...

    [eimg url='' title='IMG_2564-1.jpg']

    [eimg url='' title='IMG_2558-1.jpg']

  • Ritin March 24, 2010 08:46 am

    Well last week I tried to capture some of the clouds....

    [eimg link='' title='Poole Park' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Silhouette' url='']

  • Rob March 22, 2010 10:32 am

    Add clouds? What do you mean,. Add Clouds? I'm old fashioned obviously. If I get the shot with great clouds I've acheived the goal. If I don't, I don't. I'm not swapping skies...period. Maybe thats why I enjoy acheiving the goal with my camera and not the computer. If I can win awards and certificates without opening photoshop then anyone can. Try's hard work, but it's photography..cheers..R

  • Pam March 21, 2010 11:09 pm

    I began taking cloud shost a couple of years ago to use with the bluebird sky we have more often than not here in the southwest.
    But that is only one way to go.Get and learn how to use a circular polarizer.(you know the 90 degrees off of the sun thing and best used when facing north or south) So many people think that a polarizer some how adds saturation. That is only part right, polarizers increase the contrast between the blue sky and the clouds which are not as affected. So next time those clouds are ho-hum dig out the circular polarizer. Its time to do more in camera. It saves lots of time in photoshop.
    FYI they are a great way to make a rainbow stand out too. Oh there is one negative because they are deeper than most filters, the potential for vignetting is great. So shoot for the crop.

  • Marsha Suzzanne March 20, 2010 11:31 pm

    i love to include the clouds.
    pictures by marsha suzzanne

  • Kenneth Hyam March 20, 2010 10:34 pm

    Dear Ryan

    A very nice and creative approach to cloud photography. I enjoyed reading it and will start creating my cloud library from today.
    Thanks a lot.


  • Neha Belsare March 20, 2010 12:46 am

  • ma.divina munoz March 19, 2010 10:27 am

    thanks great tips on sky

  • Marjorie B March 19, 2010 07:45 am

    One quick word of caution: always remember that they sky itself (not clouds) is several shades deeper in color straight above you than it is at the horizon. This is true no matter what time of day. If you're cutting a new sky into a photo, make sure it's right-side up or it will look odd, and then maybe you can fix that with a gradient....the fixes can become endless. Also of interest, there are some excellent pictures of clouds and their classification on Wikipedia, well worth reading.

  • mwelch613 March 19, 2010 05:47 am

    [eimg link='' title='Decent (Beginning)' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Descent (end)' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='florida sunset 2' url='']

    Took these pictures when I had my old 3 megapixel Olympus

  • mwelch613 March 19, 2010 05:43 am

    Great Post my only other comment would be to sometimes wait for things to develop. Three of these pictures occured on the same day over time on a commercial flight. (these pictures were all taken with a 3 megapixel Olympus).

    [eimg link='' title='(Decent) Pre' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Decent (Beginning)' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Descent (end)' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='florida sunset 1' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='florida sunset 2' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Everglades' url='']

  • Carleton Akana March 19, 2010 04:37 am

    My cameras are always with me. 40D & 5D. In the backseat of my truck. Am exited about an upcoming shoot, involves children.
    Will include clouds from now on as my outdoor shots.
    ...........................................................................message ends..........................................................................................

  • Pritam March 19, 2010 04:36 am

    It is nice to have some idea from this discussion..........please comment on my snap, so that I can improve it in future.............[eimg url='' title='OgAAABz0LRaVDXPlrR5AeBDJB-_HpHMAki-dvVY0OZkPaRa2URXlb3jI0carlvsh3oLb29xbZx_RbvL1lNVi5mENY1MAm1T1UGd7bqYWZ83uTFYUVQdkJQAKj152.jpg']

  • Suresh Krishna March 19, 2010 03:41 am

    Cool stuff. For sure the sky is limited by your imagination. Here are some of my could pictures.

  • Tim Russell March 18, 2010 02:37 pm

    Great article. I discovered by accident a few months back how dramatic cloud formations can transform a run of the mill landscape shot into something spectacular. A couple of recent examples - this is a hotel swimming pool in Luang Prabang, Laos:

    ...and these were taken at the Louvre in Paris a couple of weeks ago:

  • Chris March 18, 2010 10:04 am

    Here are some links to some of my cloud photos:

  • Chris March 18, 2010 10:02 am

    Love clouds and agree they set the mood of good landscapes and urban photos.

  • Rob March 18, 2010 05:49 am

    forgot to add examples

    [eimg link='' title='Flying over Novgorod' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Hymettus cloud towers at sunrise' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Angels of St Issacs' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Clouds and Spire' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Rainclouds over Baku in Azerbaijan' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Areoplane in sunset red clouds' url='']

  • Rob March 18, 2010 05:43 am

    let your imagination go wild and get creative. Make the most of the clouds because we don't get many clouds here in the desert. I had a cloud shaped like a flying saucer in athens, But I can't remember where i put it.
    Thanks for the great article, I guess we don't notice the great subjects right in front of us.

  • Zoe March 18, 2010 05:33 am

    Hope you love the sky/clouds as much as I do[: **NO EDITTNG DONE

    [eimg url='' title='nxmbsk.jpg']
    [eimg url='' title='a>']
    [eimg url='' title='23lo5rq.jpg']

  • Stavros March 17, 2010 05:04 am

    href="" title="Sahara desert: 67/365 by skammas, on Flickr">
    Straight out of the camera with cloudy adjustment

    White balance adjustments in RAW

    White balance adjustments in RAW

  • nix74 March 17, 2010 01:35 am

    Thanks for the tips. Clouds are another fascinating subject to photography.. if blended with blue clear sky, it looks so awesome.

  • Hector Perez-Nieto March 16, 2010 11:10 am

    I Photoshopped the sky in this photo since the original images (the light streaks are an overlay of multiple shots) had a rather flat, dull sky. The new one is from a photograph I had taken in the Caribbean:

    I added further contrast to the 'blue' channel.


  • Tipiro March 16, 2010 10:28 am

    Congratulations! Excellent classroon! Thank you for using my photo! Very appreciated!!!

  • Annie March 16, 2010 03:01 am

    This was a great atricle! Thank you. I posted a picture I took a few months ago from a plane. I will try to use the new tricks I learned today to make my sky pics even better!

  • Jason Collin Photography March 16, 2010 12:30 am

    I found this "X" pattern in the clouds recently, gave me a bit of an X-Files flashback:

  • CJAYJR March 15, 2010 11:16 pm

    Enjoyed the article on cloud photography although it came a little late for a book I just completed:

    I had read a couple articles a few months back on clouds and even came across a website for the "The Cloud Appreciation Society." All this peaked my creativity and I went out like this article suggested and started collecting shots of cloud formations. After about a week of this I couldn't stop taking photos of clouds because I wanted to capture all the various formations I came across. I would shoot in the morning, noon and late afternoon. I must have captured over 200 shots of clouds and it became difficult to look at all these different formations without many looking alike in a lot of ways. I began putting the book together with the idea of having a subject and then picking the cloud formation I wanted to use with that subject. Using PSE I was able to blend, overlay and layer the subjects with the clouds. I am no way a professional but it was a great exercise for both learning more about my camera and PSE. Check out my book to see how this turned out.

  • Naqiyah Mayat March 15, 2010 03:30 pm

    i was in morocco recently and took a picture of the hassan ii masjid, little did i realise i had so much of sky behind the building which added to the overall picture rather nicely: view here

  • Matt Bamberg March 15, 2010 01:48 pm

    Alfred Stieglitz was very fond of clouds. Check it out at

  • jeeperspeepers March 15, 2010 12:39 pm

  • vicki March 15, 2010 12:35 pm

  • Ryan Cooper March 15, 2010 11:44 am

    @chris sutton: Ya i would be happy to write up a tutorial on how to extra the clouds and put them in your piece so they don't look weird. To give you a start without going into too much detail I usualy extract the foreground (using the extract filter or in my case a plugin that works better). I then drop the sky behind the foreground and work in closely with the foreground's mask to remove the halo or sharp edge that might be left from the extraction.

    hopefully that will get you going until I get around to creating a full size tutorial on the matter :D

  • PotatoEYE March 15, 2010 11:40 am

    [eimg link='' title='_MG_9787' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='last chance' url='']

    Hope you love clouds as much as I do :)

  • Ken Klassy March 15, 2010 11:16 am

    Polar Stratospheric or Nacreous Clouds. One of my favorites to photograph down here in Antarctica.

  • Steve Gravano March 15, 2010 10:44 am

    Excellent article. I've always had a fascination with clouds. I got lucky this past week with a few photos of clouds which can be found here

  • Mei Teng March 15, 2010 10:21 am

    I like cloud photography. Have a small collection of cloud photos.

  • Marjan March 15, 2010 09:41 am

    has anyone tried this

  • Tim Fields March 15, 2010 07:12 am

    great article - here's my effort
    [eimg link='' title='Clouds (1)' url='']

  • Chris Sutton March 15, 2010 06:48 am

    I have a growing collection of clouds/skys but would like to second alex clac's plea for a tutorial on how to get them in to your photo - to date I haven't found / developed a slick process that doesn't end with it looking obvious that the sky has been grafted in.

  • SexyNinjaMonkey March 15, 2010 06:35 am

    "Overexposed clouds tend to look goofy. You can always fix up the exposure later in post processing."
    Wow you guys totally just lost some respect. I would have qualified that with at least "But it's best if you can avoid it".

  • Ed Hamlin March 15, 2010 05:52 am

    Great article. I would add a couple of thoughts.

    Direction of light is important when shooting clouds. If you can get the light behind them or even at a high angle you will have more definition. Also shoot away from the light if possible. Clouds typically are 2-3 stopps brighter than surrounding terrain. Like it was said don't be affraid to use filters, but also don't be affraid to be over or under exposed.

    I shoot a lot of sunsets and typicaly have clouds every day. Different perspectivescan add intrigue. I have some that I have shot from the roof of my house that look like you at at the same height (shot with 200mm+ lens). if the are available shoot from local hills, mountains, parking structures, buildings, use them all to change perspectives.

    Lastly, sometimes you may have the intent of shooting the sky but it just doesn't seem to work, it's a 1080 degree world, so be aware of all of your surroundings.

  • Alex Gac March 15, 2010 04:55 am

    Great article! I am always hesitant to manipulate my work in Photoshop to the extent that I'm adding or subtracting significant detail (like photo shopping people in or out of the picture), but clouds seem OK to me for some reason. I have a dozen great landscapes from Mt Rainier in Washington state, USA that are excellent landscapes with dull grey skies. I've been having trouble figuring out what I want to do with those, and your article has helped clarify some of that. The section detailing the moods of clouds was particularly helpful.

    Thanks again! Looking forward to more posts from you! (maybe a 'How To Splice-in Clouds tutorial for those of us who rarely use PS?).

  • Venki March 15, 2010 04:53 am

  • Venki March 15, 2010 04:52 am

    Here is one of mine

  • Toronto Real Estate Photographer March 15, 2010 04:28 am

    As a real estate photographer the sky plays a big role in my photos. So yes a graduated neutral density filters helps a lot.
    Good post.

  • SebiMeyer March 15, 2010 03:47 am

    "The sky is notoriously bright during the day."

    See? We DID learn something today. :)

  • Greg Taylor March 15, 2010 03:38 am

    I like the way you catagorized the clouds. Not all sky settings are the same and now I have a point of reference when referring to skies. Very cool.

  • Heather March 15, 2010 01:08 am

    I'm always looking up. =o)

    My Flickr clouds.