Get cre­ative with clouds

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

What ’s the Big Idea?

Clouds are an im­por­tant part of land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, yet are of­ten over­looked when it comes to cre­at­ing an im­age. Like sup­port­ing ac­tors in a film, they can add drama and emo­tion, they can di­rect the viewer to the main point of in­ter­est, and they can sup­port or bal­ance the main sub­ject. To ex­tend the film anol­ogy fur­ther, with­out them the en­tire pro­duc­tion can be at risk of dele­tion from our mem­ory cards.

The type of cloud can also play an im­por­tant part in cre­at­ing a suc­cess­ful land­scape im­age. On count­less oc­ca­sions I have gone out to shoot a sunset, only to con­clude the clouds are the wrong type to pro­duce a spec­tac­u­lar im­age. It’s im­por­tant to have the right type of cloud; whether it’s cir­rus, cu­mu­lus or lentic­u­lar, the right type of cloud can make or break a land­scape im­age.

What ’s the Key?

The key to get­ting cre­ative with clouds is to make sure you not only have the right clouds, but that they are in the right place. I have waited ages for clouds to drift into the cor­rect po­si­tion within the frame. In fact, I waited four years to get the right cloud over this lone olive tree in Tus­cany! I do a work­shop there ev­ery year and have al­ways wanted to pho­to­graph this sin­gle tree, but never had the right clouds present – that is, un­til last year. But I still had to wait a while in this field un­til a sin­gle cloud drifted di­rectly over the tree. I could have put one in us­ing Pho­to­shop, but I pre­fer the get it right in cam­era when­ever pos­si­ble.

The an­gle at which clouds are mov­ing also im­pacts on your im­ages. Look for ones mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion to com­ple­ment the an­gle of any build­ings, or at an an­gle that helps to pull the viewer’s eye down to the ground.

Fi­nally, there is an un­writ­ten rule about us­ing clouds: small fluffy cu­mu­lus clouds like the one over the tree here shouldn’t in­ter­sect ma­jor el­e­ments within the frame, or be cut off by the edge of the frame. This isn’t quite so im­por­tant with more ex­ten­sive clouds, or flat­ter, more hor­i­zon­tal clouds such as stra­tus or cir­rus clouds, but it’s still worth bear­ing in mind when com­pos­ing an im­age.

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