I love overcast light, as a fact there is only one kind of light I like equally much, and that’s backlighting. There’s so much potential in landscape photography under a cloudy sky. Overcast skies create a nice even defused light with virtually no shadows, it is easy to expose the scene evenly and pull out details which you couldn’t in direct sunlight. I do not shoot the skies, when it is overcast. The only exception to this rule is when the clouds creates a dramatic effect, maybe even spiced up with beams of light slipping through the cover.
Wait for the right light, adapt, adjust for the scene
So when you are facing that grey blanket of greyness, point your camera down a little and avoid it. Emphasize bold colors with contrast. Use a deep depth of field and some foreground interest to give the shot a feeling of depth and contrast. When there is drama and definition is to be found in the skies, I like to include a bigger portion of the skies in my photo. Such photos are easily improved in post-production by adding drama with a boosted black and selective contrast will make the photo a lot more interesting. Yet I prefer using a polarizing filter, it takes 2 stops and can bring out the details in the dramatic skies.
Back to where it all starts
I am a strong believer of keeping things to a minimum. A good camera, a fast and wide lens and a tripod is my choice of weapon. Like many others, I too suffer from GAS, I just don’t use my acquisitions all that much. As for camera I love the Sony Alpha A99V, it is strong featured, and has a marvelous dynamic range, the biggest downside to this camera is the distribution of AF points, which is much too narrow on this full frame camera. But what the heck, I almost never use the AF system, so it’s not the biggest of issues. The glasses I most often look through, is either an old 50mm Minolta f/1.4 or my Minolta 80-200mm APO HS f/2.8, both lenses is as sharp as knife and with wonderful colors. Do remember that foggy days aren’t always lens friendly; a small trick is to remember to bring a lens cloth in case of condensation. I got heaps of mixed feelings when it comes to my tripod. I hate carrying it around, in fact there is only one thing I hate more than carrying it around, is not having it with me when I need it. I use an old Manfrotto, it is not carbon or anything fancy, its solid, and when I need it, it is there for meJ.
To improve on the standard “cloudy day” it is worth doing preparation at shooting time and a bit of post-processing afterwards. Switch the camera’s white balance setting to cloudy: this will help keep the tones a bit warmer. Use exposure compensation to decrease exposure by 1/3 EV – 2/3 EV, this increases the saturation of the colors in the photograph. If the cloud layer is relatively thin, you’ll be able to capture images with a relatively small aperture (large f-stop value). If the clouds are thick, you’ll have to use a larger aperture or increase the ISO setting.
Post-processing is also important. Contrast adjustment will give your photo more punch. Colors is always more bland on cloudy days, so Increase saturation. You will have to experiment a bit to find the setting that makes your photo more vibrant without going too saturated.
You can also Increase brightness. Depending on how much over-exposure you did in the initial shooting you might have to give brightness a notch or two.
You might think that the use of polarizing filters limited to sunny days, that is definitely not the case! In fact, on cloudy or rainy days, there’s just as much vertical light and glare as on sunny days. Polarizers improve landscapes by reducing haze in even the worst of weather. It will not exaggerate a blue sky if it’s cloudy, but increases the contrast. Beware that it will also affect your white balance, and can give your winter pictures a blueish hue. The reason is that there are relatively more UV light penetrating clouds in winter during the day. I recommend spot measuring your WB on something white.
This image is from Risskov Forest, a small piece of well-trimmed nature in the middle of Aarhus. The trees were standing in their winter dressing, without the overcast skies I wouldn’t have been able to get the even light in this image. Had it been in direct sunlight, my bet is that this would have not been a good image. Delicate oxidized tones from moss growing on trees. Green and brownish colors stand bold on a white carpet. A path S-curves its way through the picture brings perspective to the picture.
Autumn trees in fog
Fog is always an interesting element in any photograph. Lush green and with reddish leaves break the monotone background, leading lines provide perspective for our eyes, leading toward the void hidden in the fog.
Portraits in Cloudy weather
Soft light under cloudy skies is very flattering for shooting portraiture but it also has it downsides. A flat overcast sky makes your camera want to blow out to white or turn a light gray, and that really can ruin an otherwise beautiful portrait. Often I find it to be the best option, not to have the sky in my portrait photos, try to find another even background, or when that is not possible go for a nicely bukeh’ed background.
Another issue with overcast skies when it comes to portraiture is the catch light. It can often be difficult to get enough light into your subject eyes. Having a reflector is very helpful, but if you do not have one handy then there is little trick to make it easier to get the right light. Try to find an elevated position to take the photo, this will make your subject look slightly upwards, making it a lot easier to get the right light in their eyes.
I am not a fan of the use of flash on cloudy days; I prefer the ambient light. Flash easily turns into dimply lit portraits, where the ambient lit creates natural-looking soft portraits as there is no harsh light around. In situations where there simply isn’t sufficient light I subtly try to fill with 1/8 or less.
I am a fan boy when it comes to photographing with reflectors, yes they are cumbersome, and yes they are much easier with an assistant, but great when you want to bounce light into your subject’s face, thus highlighting it.
Glimpse of Light
One of the elements making a photo is when rays of light penetrate the scene. It is almost like the light falls though your scene, the magic created by an unseen light source shining through clouds, tree tops or fog perhaps creates the strongest drama in any landscape photography.
But we have to ready, as these scenes usually do not last for long. Be foreseen and have ND filters handy as it is difficult to set exposure for both the landscape and the sky. The closer you are to the light source the more pronounced those light rays will be, as long as the light source itself remains at an angle to your camera.
In the following example Dylan Walker elaborates on taking “Escaping Light” in Biglees Quarry, Fairlie , North Ayrshire, Scotland. I captured the photo using a Sony A77ii and a Tamron 17-50mm lens. I didn’t use any filters but I should have used my grad filter for the sky as it was very bright, in fact, it was so bright that I wasn’t able to make eye contact with it as it was blinding. My camera has an electronic viewfinder, so my eyes weren’t affected by the light looking through it. I was trekking up a hill and I was constantly looking up at the clouds, suddenly the light started to escape from the clouds, so I grabbed out my camera and starting to photograph. When I got back home and imported the photograph into Lightroom, I used the grad filter to reduce the exposure and added, contrast, shadows, and finally, lens correction.
Boosting colors, improves landscape photos under cloudy skies
Great cloud formations are always worth photographing. Clouds change constantly, often assuming wonderful shapes and textures, carrying gorgeous colors, and interacting with the landscape. Seize the moment. You can create a fabulous picture of clouds even in the uninspiring surroundings.
This photo was taken from old castle in Brescia Italy. The castle is called the “Falcon of Italy” because of its position on the summit of the hill, where it overlooks the city from above. In the distance the mountain ranges dominate. Imagine receding lines of mountains. With color changing from a deeper, more intense blue through several tonality of color, each layer lighter and more muted. Boosting the contrast yields more to the photo, and takes it from being bland and uninteresting.
Lake of Menteith
In low contrast situations can be excellent for Black and White photography. Instead of sitting at home complaining about “poor light” is it important to realize the potential of an overcast day try to shoot some black and white shots.
Dylan Walker ties this very interesting story to his wonderful picture
This photograph was taken on a very eerie morning at Lake of Menteith, Scotland. The atmosphere was really surreal and conditions were perfect. There was a strange sense of quietness and stillness as if the world had just stopped. I’m looking around as I unpack my gear, hearing nothing but my hearing nothing but my camera leaving my bag as I take it out. It was so quiet I could hear my heart beating; it was such a strange feeling. As I was about to take the shot, I noticed there was some nice thick clouds that would make some great motion if I used a longer exposure, so I grabbed my 10 stop ND filter out of my jacket pocket and just as I was screwing it on, a flock of birds came out of a tree just beside me. I jumped up and screamed “woah!” and could hear my voice echoing over the Lake. Goosebumps were all over me after that.
What’s most interesting about this lake, though, is that it’s the only natural water body in Scotland described as a lake, and not as a loch. It is argued that the reason for this was to deliberately isolate a loch associated with a much hated figure who was seen as betraying Scotland. However sadly, this is likely a wonderful myth as it was known as the Loch of Monteath until the 19th century. Its modern name is a Victorian alteration reflecting its rather atypical setting compared to other Scottish lochs and the name of the surrounding area. The ‘Laigh’ [meaning ‘low’ with gh pronounced as ch in loch] of Menteith is the low lying land beside the loch. The word laigh may have been mistaken for lake.
Low contrast situations can also be exploited to give an expression of depth.
Claus Møller attaches these words to his photo: The photo was taken early morning on Java in Indonesia from the sacred volcano Gunung Bromo. When I saw this scene my thoughts was on the contrast between the lush green land and the bare volcanoes in the horizon. The Morning fog was still covering the countryside as a thick blanket. The clouds intensified the contrast in the photo; this effect was enhanced even further with a polarization filter.