Landscape photographers work primarily in natural light, which presents a few problems — for starters, the most beautiful lighting conditions each day last for no more than a few hours. Other times, sunsets will be lost behind cloudy skies, making it impossible to see a landscape at its best. When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions — something which every photographer experiences at some point.
1) Look For Colors
The beauty of the light at sunset and sunrise is that it sculpts the landscape with saturated hues — in other words, the lighting provides the scene with color. When skies are overcast, though, natural lighting doesn’t offer the hues necessary for a richly-colored photograph. Instead, to create a colorful image, you must search for a vivid subject.
With an overcast sky, your light will soft and gentle. Take this opportunity to look for muted colors that would not be visible in the saturated light of sunset — soft purples and blues, perhaps. These colors may be too subtle to appear at sunset or sunrise, but a cloudy day allows them to shine.
After a rainstorm, too, it is possible to take beautiful images of deeply-saturated colors. Even with the dreariest of skies, a rainforest will always look vivid and green — a wonderful recipe for a landscape photographer. Remember to bring your polarizing filter!
2) Isolate Details
Although a grand landscape may look its best at sunrise, some detail-oriented photographs work just as well in cloudy conditions.
In part, this is because overcast skies are so drab — photos rarely benefit from having a featureless blob across the top. And even though some overcast skies still have texture in the clouds, it is important to ask yourself if they are helping your composition. If the sky is not interesting, it will not add interest to your photo.
On a cloudy day, my telephoto lens is nearly always glued to my camera. This brings the added possibility of wildlife photography, as well — another subject which can look beautiful under overcast lighting. Although I tend to stick with landscape photography when the sky is gray, I am careful to watch for other details to isolate as well.
3) Focus Closer
Another type of detail to keep in mind for gray days is the world of macro photography.
Overcast skies provide soft shadows, which makes it possible to see the true colors and tones of a close-up subject. Some macro photographers prefer to use a flash, of course, but clouds can lead to wonderful light as well.
The colors of macro scenes are naturally more saturated than distant scenes, since there is little atmospheric haze between your lens and your subject. Take advantage of this fact by searching for vivid objects to photograph — the macro world is full of color.
Often, following a rainstorm, you will be able to find drops of water to photograph as well. The geometric patterns of water droplets can be beautiful, and they are ideal subjects under overcast lighting.
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