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Cloud Photography Tips

While not much can be said about cloud photography I will try to provide you with what I know in regards to which techniques work best for the different cloud types and the different weather conditions, it definitely changes between the conditions present.

While I may not be the best example of this, location is everything. Depending on the cloud type you may want to get into an area where you can use the reflection of water, or be standing on lower ground or in some cases in higher ground.

 

Cumulus Clouds – For those of you who don’t know what cumulus clouds are, they are those small puffy clouds often seen on a summers day (fair weather cumulus), they are basically the generic cloud you think of when you hear the word. When photographing these clouds you first need to look at the conditions that brought them, while cumulus clouds can occur on warm summer days, they are also present during cold fronts. In this example I will use fair weather cumulus so you can assume there will be a blue sky present above and the cumulus will be fairly scattered. The thing I like most about the fair weather cumulus is the way the white and blue is complimented with yellow, so finding a field of flowers is often very successful in creating a visually powerful image. If you can find a reflective bed or water it also works well, as the white and blue become symmetrical as the white of the clouds tend to reflect well on the surface of water. A low ISO works well in creating a bit of darker blue sky, and better yet a polarizing filter is something I find essential in such a shot, though you may want to remove the filter if you’re following the bed or water idea, as polarizing filters reduce reflection. The trick in my eyes to good cumulus photos is a fairly large area of landscape (40%) in the image.

 

 

cirrus

 

Cirrus Clouds – Cirrus clouds, the high level whispy clouds that approach typically prior to cold fronts aren’t that great for photography in most cases depending on the density. If the cirrus is too dense you will be left with a white veil of cloud which would just ruin any photo you try take of the sky, but when there is scattered whispy cirrus it can definitely offer something. I see cirrus clouds as less of a focus point for photographs and more of a complimentary element for landscape photographs. I wouldn’t typically recommend a polarizing filter for these.

 

altocumulus

 

Altocumulus Clouds – Altocumulus typically take the appearance of stacks and stacks of small bundles of cotton wool that plaster the sky. These clouds can be treated the same as cumulus clouds given that there is enough blue sky around them. One thing that altocumulus are great at, especially in Cape Town, South Africa from experience, is sunsets. Altocumulus clouds can give some really striking sunsets but in many cases the striking colours of the sunset only last a very short time with altocumulus, so make sure you are prepared. With sunsets you need to make sure you have a good quality polarizing filter if you’re going to use one as poor quality filters I find seem to really reduce the quality during sunsets.

 

cumulonimbus clouds

 

Cumulonimbus Clouds – My personal favourite, cumulonimbus (thunder clouds) can make for some of the best photographs possible and gives you so many opportunities for different kinds and atmospheres. The primary stage of a cumulonimbus cloud is a cumulus cloud, if there is enough instability it will grow into a towering cumulus, where-after it will mature into a cumulonimbus. Taking photos of cumulonimbus can be done from a distance or from under the base of the storm, naturally the techniques will differ greatly depending. At a distance if you plan on capturing the ‘cauliflower’ type visuals you get from extreme uplift and instability it would be best using a high quality polarizing filter, again low quality ones tend to make the image a lot softer and take away from sharp details.

This is merely the way I think when taking photos of the above mentioned clouds and I hope it can help out those not yet experienced in cloud photography.

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