The Softbox in the Sky

The Softbox in the Sky


1I was born and raised in Florida. Now I live in England. Could you get more of a stark contrast than that?

England can be gloomy. Really gloomy. And gray and cold and bitter. I do whine a lot about the English weather and it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek because England can also be the freshest, most glorious, fragrant place on earth in the summer months.

But for a girl with an obsession for getting out with my kids for a daily photo shoot, the gray conditions couldn’t be better. Why? No harsh shadows or flaming bright spots. No need to say “oh guys I really love what you’re doing could you please just come do it in the shade?” No squinting eyes. Just a beautifully diffused light perfect for photography.

There’s also another thing to love about gray, cloudy days.

Last week I was doing a school. In some down time, I followed the kids outside and took photos on the playground. I stood up on an apparatus and just waited for kids to walk by. “Hey look up here!” *snap* And they were all perfect.

The gray sky was a gigantic softbox, softly lighting their faces with the most beautiful light and, oh my, what beautiful catchlights in their eyes!

So the next time you’re down about the weather, take the kids outside, climb up high and just tell them to look up!

When was the last time you had a moment where you asked “why didn’t I think of that before?”

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • adam February 27, 2010 06:24 pm

    Next time I have a camera die, I will tell everybody that it has gone to be with the big softbox in the sky.
    @Miles Bintz - You're right that there are disadvantages to such a huge soft light source, but the super-evenly lit style is very popular. From what I've seen of her work, Elizabeth makes a lot of use of it, and presumably it is what her clients want. "Front lighting for detail"?

  • Skip Nelson February 27, 2010 01:09 am

    I live in the exact opposite of the 'great soft box in the sky'; The Mojave Desert. Harsh light seems to be with us 90% of the year, but when we do get some cloud coverage the desert can be magical to work in. Unfortunately, I can not seem to get Mother Nature to work on my clients schedule.
    I have never shot in the UK, but have shot in Ireland in the spring and in the winter; absolutely incredible light to die for. I think the best natural light that I ever worked with was in Ireland in December. The colors were just incredible.

  • Manuel February 27, 2010 12:37 am

    Other good softbox you can use is a big white tent, I used that in plain harsh midday sun and gives fantastic light too:

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

  • my spatula February 24, 2010 01:12 am

    completely appreciate this living in he pacific northwest, elizabeth! (glad i'm not alone). :)

  • hfng February 23, 2010 09:34 pm

    Nice big soft box and it is free :) No lugging along light stands, umbrellas, softboxes, flash heads, lol.

  • johnp February 23, 2010 02:37 pm

    I guess haze wouldnt be too bad a light for photography Mei Teng? One thing where I do really envy the English are the nice snow photos that are being emailed through at the moment, beautiful landscapes and fun playing in the snow. We will never have the opportunity to take those where we live, or in Florida either I'd guess.

  • Mei Teng February 23, 2010 02:03 pm

    Johnp, same here in Malaysia. We have sunshine and rain all year round. And in recent years, haze!

  • johnp February 23, 2010 10:38 am

    Yes in a (small) way I envy our English friends. Here in Queensland, Australia it seems to be either bright sunshine or torrential rain, not the best for outdoor wedding photography!

  • Mandy February 23, 2010 07:50 am

    Us Brits always moan about the weather here, too hot , too cold, too wet, not wet enough - I actually think it could be classed as a national pastime!

    It's good to know it's good for something...and yes I should have thought of that before, thank you I will definitely try that one out. Knowing my luck it will be sunny tomorrow (there I go on about the weather again!)

  • Steve Berardi February 23, 2010 05:41 am

    Great tip! Overcast, cloudy days are also great for photographing wildflowers and waterfalls.. for the same reason: clouds are the best diffuser :)

  • Miles Bintz February 23, 2010 04:37 am

    I don't disagree with the fact that you get nice soft light on a cloudy day but I can't say that I like it. Sometimes light can be too flat/even.

    The light in the photo you posted suffers from this very problem. The boys cheeks, forehead and bridge of his nose have no dimension. I get no sense of depth to the picture. I've also found that gray skies give a very monotonous color tone -- it's almost like they suck color out of living things. Grass/trees look drab since they have no highlights. Water tends to look foreboding. etc. I also find that flat out-door light can leave the eyes very dark.

    I actually like shooting in full sun. It's definitely more challenging, but a good strobe for fill light (even on-camera) can allow you to shoot into the sun (so your subject isn't squinting) can bring down the exposure of the sky and leave you with fantastically rich colors.

  • Toronto Photographer February 23, 2010 03:09 am

    There is no good or bad weather, that's only in our mind :) Let's enjoy the moment !!! and take more photos :)

  • Pam February 23, 2010 02:40 am

    It is gray and foggy today, what a great way to look at that kind of day! Thanks

  • SusanG February 23, 2010 02:09 am

    Another timely one Elizabeth. I just got in from going out for my first real snow shoot this Winter -instead of whinging about the weather.

    Too funny, I returned to England after 30 years of living in the SouthWest. The day I flew back from Phoenix it was 113F to land in London and it was 40F and everyone was running around in shorts spouting "Indian Summer" :0 But it is so very beautiful here. And there's always lemonade to be made.

  • Manokar February 23, 2010 01:35 am

    Nice view on the winter photography too.... I agree with the soft-box idea but the cold weather is still a trouble for ppl who pose and also photographer who takes the pic. The whole photo-shoot session has to be short
    - I like the gray sky (as long as I don't shoot the sky ) for photography...
    - and I like to shoot just after rain.... (same gray sky)

  • tate February 23, 2010 01:26 am

    UH … please don't give away my secrets …
    Living in Cleveland Ohio has a similar "magic" with overcast days =)

  • tyler February 23, 2010 12:54 am

    This is not one of those moments.

  • Greg Taylor February 23, 2010 12:41 am

    Great post. I agree sometimes at first glance when I look outside and it's not sunny I get a little discouraged from shooting photos. Looking back I shot my two favorite portraits on less then perfect days. (I live in AZ so overcast cloudy days are now at a premium to me.)

    Cloudy days typically provide enough light for photography but with a flash you can manipulate the late to a point where a good photograph can become great.

    Here are two links to photos I shot in cloudy weather:
    Snake River Overlook
    Snowstorm Portrait

  • ArkyMark February 23, 2010 12:30 am

    Good tip for anytime or place it's "gloomy" ... like much of the USA has been this month!