Include Clouds In Your Landscapes

Include Clouds In Your Landscapes

Generally speaking, we all love a sunny day. No too hot. Not a cloud in the sky.

By photographically speaking, clouds can be your best friend. They can add drama. But more importantly, they are often an important photographic element to help balance an image. To show you what I mean, take a look at these two photos taken from roughly the same spot in sunny Orange County, California.

Now, I’ll grant you the argument that the second is more dramatic because of the sunset, but that element aside, can you see how the feel of the image changes when clouds are introduced? The background of the sky is nearly the same, with strong yellows at the horizon transitioning up to deeper blues in both images.

This viewpoint is near my home and I go there often to watch the sunset. On the days with no or very few clouds, the sunset is still impressive. But on the evenings when clouds abound, especially at a variety of altitudes and forms, the sky brings more drama and gives a better show. And that translates to a better photograph.

When you have a favorite subject or location close to where you live, be sure to visit it often when there are even small shifts in the cloud patterns. The results might amaze you.

Not only should you add some clouds, it’s also important to know how the clouds affect the mood of your photo. Here are two more photos, this time from outside Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah, of Merrimac Butte. Again, the angle is slightly different and so is the time of day, but both shots were taken on successive days at 2PM and 4PM respectively.

It’s the mistake of beginning photographers to think their one shot of Yosemite or New York or anywhere with a sky is the “one” shot. That’s the wonderful thing about photography and this planet; weather and clouds play a big part in the mood in an image.If the clouds aren’t they way you want them, wait five minutes, an hour, a day or even a season to find the right mood for your image.


Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Lynda January 28, 2013 06:03 am

    I love the shots, and agree with the article completely. What I read these tips for is the 'how to' not the why.
    Since I am still a learner, I wonder if there are settings I should adjust to get these great images. For instance, it I try to include the clouds do I need to under expose the shot and fix it later? Do I need to shoot on specific settings? This may be second nature to most of you, but for me, I am definitely open to your tips.

  • Mark W Woods January 27, 2013 04:57 am

    It's all about clouds for me my sunrises can't live without clouds as it gives beautiful colors. Check my website and look at the landscape album

  • Sylvy January 26, 2013 09:39 pm

    Thank you Peter for sharing this article. I always include clouds in my landscapes. Without them, landscape would be too plain and would lack of its energetic spirit, I reckon.

    Your tip can be applied to B&W photography as well. Here's the proof:

    However, I prefer keeping colours alive because they better highlight the mood of a place.
    Misty weather:

  • O January 26, 2013 01:37 am

    I take a photo of the Berlin TV-Tower every day. The most impressive in this collection are the different cloud-formations and cloud-colors. Every day is so different!

  • Mike Aitchison January 25, 2013 12:27 pm

    I really enjoy clouds, they can really bring out a background. I've shot the Oshkosh Air show a number of times and an image shot with the cloudless blue sky background losses something. Clouds can enrich a shot.

  • Halimah Martin January 25, 2013 12:04 pm

    Funny you should be talking about clouds today. I just finished editing a photo of a hawk, replacing the blue sky background with a dramatic cloud background. You can see the before and after photos here:

  • Dennis Warren January 25, 2013 11:18 am

    Yep...clouds are good. We get a few occassionally :-) This one taken from Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach, FL

    [eimg url='!i=2004367504&k=G6zTBKM' title='7156118_Z4pmNR#!i=2004367504&k=G6zTBKM']

  • Robert Orpin January 25, 2013 10:39 am

    I enjoy and find the most pleasure in photographing Clouds. No two formations are ever the same and you can get some dramatic photos without any tricks. Clouds add mood to any scene, and are much more interesting the more you shoot. I would rather photograph clouds than people.[eimg url='undefined' title='undefined']

  • Kishan January 25, 2013 01:17 am

    Completely agree with you. Clouds are a Photographer's friend!! Following are some of my pictures shot on very cloudy days:

  • Bob Bevan Smith January 24, 2013 06:21 pm

    I too love clouds in my pictures. I thoroughly agree that clouds can add greatly to a picture - provided they are the right clouds. There are also some times when no clouds would be best. So, do take the same scene several times under different conditions and see what difference it makes. And even if it is necessary to wait a whole year, that can be worth it. I go to one of my favourite spots dozens of times a year, and I have a large collection of pictures, all different.
    The only thing I would add though, re CCTING's comment, is that to simply paste in some clouds from another source may not give you that feeling of authenticity, and you certainly don't learn as much.

  • Ranjith January 24, 2013 02:15 pm

    Without the element of clouds these pictures are not what they are. Their presence implies a lot more than mere filling up the empty sky

  • nuspa January 23, 2013 07:09 pm

    Clouds are awesome in landscapes !

  • ccting January 23, 2013 06:15 pm

    waiting for the clouds takes time.. what if we buy a cloud scene from the internet and merge into our photo??

  • Zain Abdullah January 23, 2013 03:31 pm

    Thanks for your enlightening article. I couldn't agree more clouds will create mood and drama in the pictures. I am pleased to share some of my landscape shots with dramatic clouds:

  • kevin January 23, 2013 11:36 am

    What would happen if the clouds were inside? Take a look at this video of how an artist made one of the best inventions of the year for 2012 by making an indoor cloud ~ Stunning !

  • Stephen Emlund January 22, 2013 01:52 pm

    Great tip! I'm making it a point to shoot more landscapes this year and have yet to have clouds in the sky when I go out. Still on the lookout, I better check the weather more often.

  • Jeff E Jensen January 22, 2013 11:03 am

    Yup, clouds always add some interest to the scene. Here's some recent shots of the Jefferson Memorial that wouldn't have been nearly as good without the clouds:

    I also like having a bit of clouds in my light painting images. The long exposures creates some interesting things with the moving clouds:

  • Kiran January 22, 2013 10:16 am

    A great article and some really creative tips for using weather to enhance your photos.

  • Joe Shelby January 22, 2013 08:48 am

    It is a reason why, when some say "if its cloudy, go out and shoot anyways" and I think...nah...

    There has to be definition in the clouds, and some days are just pure gray, a solid color more 'go away' than the plane blue.

    When those happen, one likely just has to play off the 'rule of thirds' and stick the skies to just the upper third of the framing, which means getting more interesting with a foreground subject to occupy the lower third.

    Mind you, it is rare that the clouds could actually be foreground, but some places, like the Grand Canyon, give those moments:

  • Iuqsaman January 22, 2013 07:45 am

    In my short time learning as I am, I have to agree, a few days ago I travelled to work with the sun rising in front of me, the colours due to the clouds were astounding however the next day I decided to set up and took some shots but without the clouds they were nothing like the previous days visions. Nice article thanks

  • Thomas Schmidt January 22, 2013 07:29 am

    Oh, I love clouds! They can make a sunset look really dramatic. But also during daytime they are much more interesting than a boring simple blue sky. Here is a small collection of my clouds:

  • Guigphotography January 22, 2013 06:58 am

    I'm actually a big fan of this and sometimes get more interested in the clouds than the subject I originally aimed to shoot.

  • Scottc January 22, 2013 03:46 am

    I agree, it isn't often that we go searching for clouds!

  • Mridula January 22, 2013 01:57 am

    There is a theme called Sky Watch Friday (google it) and that has made me appreciate how much clouds add the the scene.