Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.
Photographing clouds and weather is a great creative option and can be done wherever you are, writes David Rogers
If ever there was a thought that landscapes would be the same, day after day, they did not reckon on the clouds. or seas. Whispy, puffy, dark, light, colourful or moody they are as much a part, and perhaps even the greater part, of great photography as the subjects that are on the ground. Clouds are never static. They dance and move and bring a certain element of luck to good fortune. Seeing a cloud lining up on the horizon, in balance with the foreground, and mirroring its colours and details can be as exciting for me as seeing a lion on the hunt, or a bird in flight.
These might be inspiring, or if you would like to hang one on your wall please let me know. We grant very inexpensive licences to print and would love you to enjoy the images always.
On photographic workshops we often work on clouds. I advise clients that
Summer skies (November to March) offers the best cloud build ups in most of Africa as the heat creates thunderstorm activity and fantastic storms. It’s the reverse in Cape Town and the southwestern Cape which has a Mediterranean climate and gets its frontal clouds in the winter months. (April to September). Watching the weather and times will give you a good idea of frontal movements and the best opportunities for great sunrises and sunsets.
Go wide to show the skies with a 14mm lens and let the clouds dominate the picture by letting them dominate the photograph. Study their shapes and lines and see if you can find designs to lead your viewers eye. Leading lines are such a powerful creative tool and so are diagonals. Contrast of colour and done can also be used to creative effect.
Keep shooting after the sun has gone using long exposures as some of the cloud formations can create really interesting shapes and forms. The camera has amazing ability to pick up details and colours which may be quite tame to the naked eye.
A polarising filter will allow you to create contrast in skies by removing glare and bringing out blue colours. It is really most effective when used at midday and with blue skies.
Skies are generally darker than land so we use graduated filters are designed to darken skies by 3, 6, or 9 stops. The filters are dark on the top and become lighter towards the bottom and so allows you to capture better detail in your foreground. I recommend Lee and Nisi filters both of which provide a wide range of excellent gear. A graduated filter with a soft edge is recommended for most general scenes while a filter with a hard graduation is best for seas and flat horizons. Often a combination of two filters — a hard and a soft filter — can be used together to great effect. There are also reverse graduated filter which is darkest in the centre and specially designed to allows you to shoot into the sun and bring our foreground detail. Great for yawning lions at sunset!
Generally photographers will use a tripod when shooting with graduated filters and especially if its at sunset or they are trying to take long exposures. If you are wanting to create movement in your clouds or in seas you need to shoot at exposures of a second or more. To do this in bright daylight you will need to use a Neutral Density filter. The ND filter is a dark bit of glass that come in various strengths. I recommend a six stop which will allow you to increase your shutter speed from say 60th second to around 1/30th second. The are also much stronger ones such as the Big Stopper that can create 15 second exposures during daytime. If you do not have an ND filter you can made do with a polariser which is a two stop filter. Then reduce your ISO and choose a smaller f-stop to choke out the available light as far as possible. I also underexposed by 1 or 2 stops to further slow down the shutter in times of need.
If you don’t have the right graduated filters to shoot in camera its worth using exposure compensation to capture a variety of exposures which can then be combined as an HDR image in Lightroom. This is called bracketing and there is an auto bracket feature on most cameras. You need to shoot +4, 0, -4 without moving the camera so a tripod is essential. Modern cameras and mobile phones are getting really good at this in-camera HDR photography.
Post production allows you to also enhance the clouds in your pictures and to give you the best option to capture the full dynamic range it is suggested to shoot in RAW and make sure that you do not lose your highlight detail. If you blow your sky you will not get it back. Also bringing back detail in the dark areas creates noise so it’s a fine balance.
Lightroom which is an excellent Adobe Product has a sophisticated graduation tool function that has some very advanced features that enable you to darken according to tonal ranges and colours. I will do a separate blog about this at some stage as there are some cool tips and tricks. Photographing clouds with time-lapse photography on your phone or in camera is also very rewarding. The highly sophisticated LR Timelapse program has been designed to help you create day to night transitions.
Or, if you want to create your own painterly effects, you can sweep your camera across skies and seas while your shutter is open. With an exposure of a second or more you will see how it works. Blurs and Intentional Camera Movement
Combining the dynamic nature of clouds with the dynamic movement of seas is a very popular genre of landscape photography. Choose a spot with some interesting rocks and a view towards the rising or setting sun can create really dramatic images.
David Rogers runs regular workshops in Cape Town and along the southern Cape Coast and in even on the cloud (using Zoom) fact anywhere you might be interested in travelling in Africa. Contact him if you want to join him chasing seas and clouds.
Reflections in Muizenberg
Intentional camera movement is created with a sweeping motion and a long exposure
West Coast South Africa seas are given a painterly effect with a long exposure of 1/30th of a second.
Muizenberg seas in Cape Town slowed down using a tripod and a long exposure of 1 second.