Cloudy Day Photography

A rainy day recently started out as a miserable photography experience, but in the end turned out great. First I discovered that there were herons nearby. That perked up my spirits and made me wonder about ways to take advantage of the dreary day. It turns out that there are plenty of shots that are better in cloudy weather.

Long Exposures

Dim light is great for long exposures. I realized that as I was walking over a highway overpass, which resulted in this photo.

long exposure of highway with car headlight streaks

Normally at that time of day most of the cars wouldn’t have had their headlights on. Even if they did, they wouldn’t have stood out on a brighter day.

That got me thinking about the classic long exposure subject, waterfalls. Clouds allow the silky motion blur and often bring rain to boost the flow. Here is the old mill race at Lassiter Mill Park here in Raleigh. You can click this photo and some of the others to see them larger.

long exposure of waterfall at Lassiter Mill

Exposure 4 preset "Color Films - Vintage" / "Kodachrome 35mm - Brighter"

Good Clouds / Bad Clouds

Beware of getting a flat white sky in your photo on a cloudy day. In both the photos above, I cropped out a featureless white sky.

On the other hand, clouds with some transitions can be useful. In the scene below, the window of white sky helped me highlight the father and son in the little boat.

father and son in a boat on a lake in Norway

Lake Eidsvatnet, Norway

I love fog.

foggy green field with old chimney

man hiding behind old chimney in foggy green field

Black & White

If a scene isn’t very colorful then I like to explore black & white treatments, and clouds are a good candidate. This shot from Fiji can take on many different moods in black & white. I used it on our web site to demonstrate split toning in Exposure.

dramatic clouds behind surfers walking on the beach in Fiji

Exposure 4 preset "B&W Misc Effects" / "High Key - Platinum Toning (warm)"

Soft Lighting

Clouds are like huge diffusers, plus they’re free! Many subjects look better with that soft lighting. Of course, people are the obvious one. I also find that small natural objects are better without harsh lighting, like insects, flowers, mushrooms, and this snail. Soft light let’s you see more detail and and subtle color variations.

red snail

Water Drops and Ice

Water and ice usually follow clouds and they can be great macro subjects.

dew drops on a spider web. neat geometric pattern

macro close up shot of icicle

Now I take my camera with me almost every time I leave the house. In any environment there’s something fun to shoot.

About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. WAHEED SHALA March 9, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Thank you very much for Eye Candy company & Cloudy Day Photography & alien skin And all your companies specialized in this field

    • Robert March 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      You are very welcome. If you ever need any helps with our products, just let us know.

  2. Simon March 11, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Thanks for this post Jeff. Those photos are really inspirational.
    Great idea to crop out plain white skies if possible.
    Your ‘Water Drops’ photo….. is that real bokeh or Alien Skin Bokeh?
    It’s so hard to tell!
    I love Alien Skin programs!!!!

    • Jeff March 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      Excellent question about the water drops on the spiderweb. That blur is from a lens with a wide aperture that gives a very shallow depth of field. You could achieve a similar effect with our Bokeh software on some spiderweb photos, but this particular geometry is too complicated for that. Lots of overlapping strands make it tough for software.

  3. WAHEED SHALA March 12, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    This is an honor for all of us because you are supporting clear this creativity

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