Scenic Outlook – Shoot for the Clouds

“What a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky!” To most people this phrase means good things, but when I have my camera in hand, it’s actually just the opposite.  As landscape photographers, there are many elements of a scene we look for when composing a shot. Typically the first things we analyze when shooting a landscape are the foreground and background elements, but often times we overlook what’s above our heads. It’s easy to dismiss clouds as another piece to your landscape puzzle, but if you pay special attention to the fluffy white stuff, your images can take that next step. I’m going to touch on why you should start paying more attention to clouds and break down some techniques on making them work for you.

Blue is boring
Start thinking of landscape images with three equally weighted segments: foreground, background and sky. Your goal should be to have each segment of the frame adding interest to your image. As your viewer’s eye travels up or down the photograph, don’t let it stop abruptly with a featureless blue sky. Sure, sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it (ie, you’re on vacation), but when shooting near your home, get that camera out when the sky has some character. It’s perfectly fine returning to a favorite spot or capturing the same scene more than once. Adding clouds to a previously similar image can dramatically improve your shot.

I’ve headed back to this same spot at my local beach multiple times. I was rewarded during my last visit with an impressive cloud filled sky which put previous boring sky shots to shame.

Play the waiting game
Clouds move, it’s science. Use this to your benefit. If you are out shooting at a location and compose a shot with a boring blue sky, take note of moving clouds in the area. If some nice puffy clouds are nearby, wait a few minutes and get them in the shot when they move through. There’s usually little reason to rush a shot. Good things come to those who wait.

Clouds were moving fast at the summit of Okemo mountain when I took this shot. I waited for a nice combination to roll in and caught a great sky which really makes this image pop.

Sense of scale
Bringing your audience into the scene and sharing what you saw and felt is part of the reason why we shoot beautiful landscapes. A great way to share the sense of scale you experienced at a location is by utilizing the clouds above. Try a shot where clouds dominate the frame. This can often cause for a compelling scene that will impact the viewer because it translates the vastness or size of a landscape into an image.

While in Hawaii, clouds were abundant. I crouched low for this shot and let the clouds dominate much of the image. What I wound up with was an accurate feeling of a vast landscape, which was exactly what I felt at the time of this shot.

Up, up and away
Just like the previous point of a cloud dominating image, shooting from a vantage point above them can translate an accurate sense of height. This tip is more out of your control than others, but take advantage when you can. Especially when you travel, explore areas of higher elevation. Search for higher vantage points looking down on popular areas to separate your image from the masses. A nice layer of clouds will help you avoid the “you had to be there” disclaimer. Friends and family will sense the elevation.

When I traveled to Vermont for the fall foliage, I discovered Killington mountain offered rides to the summit. This is one of my favorite images from that trip because of the different vantage point I was able to achieve. That strip of eye-level clouds shows just how elevated I was.

Hopefully from now on you will look at cloudy days a bit differently and use it to make some spectacular landscape images. Just remember to always keep clouds in mind while composing your shot because they can be a great asset to your photographic arsenal.

Jesse PafundiJesse Pafundi is a photographer hailing from Long Island, New York. A lover of all things photography, he enjoys traveling and capturing the world around him as much as possible. In addition to shooting landscapes, he has a major affection for New York City architecture and urban exploration. Whether it’s HDR, lens filters, or iPhoneography, he enjoys dabbling in and learning as many techniques as he can consume. Jesse believes strongly in the use of social media and blogging as a tool to further his knowledge and share his passion with anyone who wants to listen.

Pafundi Images

Company: Pafundi Images
Twitter: @dude_withcamera

Photo Credit: © 2011 Jesse Pafundi

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  1. Totally agree to u 🙂 When I started shooting, I was looking for the blue blue sky (even so after I got the polarizer). Then when I started with HDR couple of yrs back, clouds started adding beauty to the shots (cause they add dramatic effects)

    As I keep shooting, am more looking at each of the elements rather than the technique to capture the essence of the shot.
    nice article !

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