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If you are shooting clouds...

I often find myself hunting clouds as I noticed more and more that they increase the drama in my landscape photography. Without clouds the scene might look dull and boring. I have notice this actually in post processing while introducing that graduated filter in Adobe Lightroom to decrease the exposure from the skies. Every time I do this I instantly have that WOW effect. Suddenly the photo gets dramatic because clouds are now visible. As a photographer now one should always keep the rule of thirds in mind. If you are shooting a rock and a field of greens, your sky should occupy the upper 1 third. If your subject however is the sky and the clouds in it, your sky should occupy the 2 thirds of the landscape. Remember though to introduce some foreground against the clouds to complete the composition.

Example of dull and boring skies with the horizon dead in the middle of the composition

It is not until I started photographing that I have started noticing the clouds in the sky. Non-photographers take clouds for granted and they don’t even bother to look up during the day. My advice to you is to pause and look up for the skies every day at leave once. You will notice Gods’ mysterious ways of telling us how great his powers are and how mysterious this world is.

The subject in this photo is the clouds pattern ad not the landscape

Now back to the photographers. Get your hand on a polarizing filer. Although not necessary, but a polarizing filter will help in adding more drama to the clouds by blocking out the light rays. This will allow clouds to pop easily in your scene.

Second, look for the foreground (like ground, rocks, etc.) in the shot.  Let the sky dominate the photo (2 thirds) but use the ground to show some significance and scale. 

Foreground introduced against the clouds to complete the composition

The best time to shoot clouds however is at sunset. The difference between a nice sunset and a dramatic sunset is all about the clouds. A clear sky at sunset usually have a shade of pale blue or pink, but with the right amount of cloud pattern in the sky the scene becomes alive with drama as the sun position sends its rays off the clouds making them reddish and orange.

Sunsets however, don’t last very long, so you need to plan and monitor changing weathers. I recommend www.accuweather.com for you. You can even download their iOS or Android app on your cell phone and be on the look for “bad” weather. Accuweather also provides you with your local weather forecast and sunset time

Clouds at sunset provide that dramatic vibe

The next thing to know is how to expose? Well, the most effective way of bringing out the natural saturation of coloured light is to underexpose very slightly (between a half-stop and a full stop). For that you can make use of your exposure compensation. You can also make use of Exposure Bracketing to make sure you got the best possible exposure. Take several shots and experiment by changing White Balance from Daylight to Cloudy to Tungsten.  If using Manual mode, try different exposures, so you can review later and assess on your computer at home in order to determine which is the most successful. A tip though in post-processing is not to over-saturate the scene. In place of Saturation use that Vibrance slider in Lightroom or similar post-processing software. Vibrance works on those mid-tone pixels and prevents that odd look that over Saturation provides.

The next time you’re out shooting, take a break and check out the clouds.  Look for their amazing patterns, shapes, and colours. Retract from cliché and change your perspective. Look for something new. Follow the rules above then take contrary shots to break them just for the fun of it.