5 Tips For Shooting On A Cloudy Day

If you live in the northern hemisphere then you still have plenty of winter days ahead. Even in the spring the sky is not always clear and sunny. Personally, I love shooting during overcast days. It lessens half of my worries and, although experimenting with sunlight is fun, cloudy means easy…ier. Easier!

Today I’m sharing with you 5 tips for shooting on a cloudy day. Let’s begin!

1. CLOUDY MEANS SOFT LIGHT

Look at it this way: if the Sun is our primary light source and you put a layer of clouds in between the Sun and the Earth – you get a giant natural diffuser. FOR FREE.

That means the light will be soft and perfect for portrait work. You don’t have to worry about ugly harsh shadows on your model’s face because there are none! The light is soft and compliments the model’s face.

 

model with long hair on a cloudy day
In this photo Michelle’s head is slightly tilted upwards toward the sky. The soft light created nice smooth shadows on her face.

 

2. LOW CONTRAST

Because the light is really soft on overcast days, this will result in a duller, flatter image with less contrast. There is not a huge difference between the shadow and light areas which is a good thing for capturing more details in the shadows. However, if you prefer more contrast in your photos, you can use post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom to fix that.

 

conceptual portrait of a dancer in the woods
I shot this image with the dancer and choreographer Ema Janković in the woods on a cloudy day. It was quite dark in the woods because of the trees overshadowing the light source so I needed to pump up the contrast a bit in Photoshop to make sure that the colour black was black indeed.

 

3. LIGHT FROM ABOVE

Any light has it’s source and directon (the angle from which it falls on the model’s face). In the case of cloudy days – the light being diffursed by the clouds – the light is falling down on an angle from above.

That means you will have to ask your models to move their heads in order to see what pose works best. Generally, it’s best if the model’s head is tilted slightly upwards, thus eliminating the dark areas around the eyes.

Using reflector is helpful in these sort of situations, as they can bounce the light in the model’s face, adding nice catchlights in the eyes to make them more prominent.

 

girl with dark long hair on the stairs
In this example, Mietta was standing on the staircase below me and, since she was looking up at me, you can see catchlights in her eyes from the light coming in through the clouds! Being a cloudy day, her face is shaped with soft light and shadow areas.

 

4. BLOWN-OUT HIGHLIGHTS

You pressed the shutter button and – BAM! – the sky turned white. No, it’s not magic, it’s one thing that happens a lot when shooting during cloudy days – blown-out highlights. The sky on the photo loses its colour and no details are visible.

If you’re shooting in RAW (and you SHOULD), you can partially solve this problem by underexposing the image and bringing back the details in the shadows in post (Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom).

 

girl with red lipstick
Okay, this isn’t really the best example because in this scenario the model was backlit (the light was coming from her back), but you can see what I mean – the cloudy sky behind her? Yes, without details. In this case I didn’t mind it because my focus was on Nastya’s face, but you have to be aware that blown-out highlights are a very common issue not only on sunny days.

 

The other method you can use is HDR. That way you take three photos, one of which is properly exposed, one is underexposed and the last one is overexposed. This technique will definitely allow you to maintain more details in the final image, but the use of a tripod is recommended!

Two other ways:
Using graduated ND filters (external link)
– Using fill light or flash

Look at this Youtube video to get an understanding of how Gavin Hoey used external lights to add a bit of drama to the image, as well as the settings he used to create a well-balanced scene!

5. SEE THE WORLD IN COLOUR

Okay, how does a yellow field of flowers look like in sunlight? You can barely look at it, right? It’s so bright and not a pleasant view. And it shines like a disco ball on photos!

But, on cloudy days, the story changes. All those beautiful bright colours like red, yellow and orange stand out among the grayish dismal landscape. Flowery fields become magical places to shoot at, the red roofs are a much-needed pop of colour and there is nothing better than having a colourful bold style on your model.

Now, THAT will make an impression!

So, let’s go over this again:

– Cloudy days are great for portraiture
– Shoot colourful subjects/objects because they stand out from the rest of the landscape
– Beware of blown-out highlights and the sky turning white

A dull gray day outside? Perfect – it’s time to put these tips in action!
Don’t forget to share your results with me and let me know how your shoot went!


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photographer self portrait with cameraAbout the author
Hi! I’m Isabella and I’m a fine art/portrait photographer, digital photography blogger, jewelry creator and graphic designer. I love spending my time creatively, but when I’m in the mood to chill I enjoy watching movies, drinking tea and hanging out with friends!
Find me here isabellabubola.com or on Facebook / Instagram and say hello!

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