Illuminated Clouds

Illuminated Clouds by Mike Jackobo

The illuminated clouds above two lonely trees are the theme of this photo I took one autumn evening at a lagoon. As I look at this photo, with the experience I have in making images and also talking to other photographers, I have the question: are clouds a good thing or not?

As with most answers in life the answer to that question is: it depends. On one hand, the clouds can add another element to the composition and fill an otherwise dull sky. But on the other hand, the clouds block the sun; and that can be a serious problem sometimes.

Light and Shadows

Shadows can be an important -even essential- element in the photograph you want to make. Shadows give depth to a two-dimensional photo. Deep shadows can add drama to a scene, when used properly. Then, clouds blocking the sun can be a nuisance. I have spoken to people that consider it a waste of time to go out and shoot on cloudy days.

On the other hand though, light cloud cover can create really soft light. Basically light clouds function as an enormous softbox, covering the whole area from all sides. So, if your intent is just to document something, without any dramatic undertones, clouds can be a good thing because with them, there is not such a high contrast in the scene. Portrait and fashion photographers really benefit from a cloudy sky, especially if they are shooting under natural light. The even illumination provided by the clouds doesn’t restrict them regarding the time of day they are able to shoot. It is also easier to bias the lighting of the subject to their liking with minimal gear.

And to close this segment, I have seen quite a few photographers try and make clouds their subject. So, does the world need another photograph with clouds?

OK, what about these clouds?

In this photo the heavy clouds are like islands in the sky. They are really big and dark but they don’t make a solid mass to block the sun. Dark clouds, light clouds and patches of open sky create an interesting mosaic in the sky. At the same time, the only thing that stands out of the water and the marshland flora, are the two trees at the bottom. The small structure next to the trees is hardly visible. This allows the illuminated clouds and the patterns they make to be the only subject in the photo.

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