How to take spectacular photos on cloudy days – Fstoppers | Ad On Picture

When I travel, I stay at each place I visit for several days to increase my chances of encountering great light. But even a week is sometimes not enough to experience a single colorful sunrise or sunset. Either the sky remains cloud-free or it is completely overcast, so that no interesting light can break through. Night photography is one way to deal with a clear sky. But what can you do when the weather is gray?

When clouds cover the sky, you still have work to do when this structure shows. You can experiment with black and white photography and bring out the details in these clouds. Or you can wait until the blue hour to add some color to the sky. If it’s just flat gray, you can try photographing forests, waterfalls, or subjects where you can exclude the sky from the photo.

But as the gray weather drags on, you’ll likely yearn to photograph some dramatic light at some point. The good news is that if you go to the right place at the right time, gray skies can give you just that.

light pollution

The lack of complete darkness can negatively affect plants, animals and people. Because of this, light pollution is usually viewed as something negative. Landscape photographers often try to avoid this in order to preserve the illusion of an untouched nature and show no signs of human civilization in their photos. Knowing where to find dark places is even more important for astrophotographers. Apps like Pro or the light pollution map can help with this.

But if you want to turn a gray sky into one on fire, you can use light pollution or skyglow to your advantage. In that case, look for a place with a lot of light pollution. These locations are in or near major cities that create so-called dome lights at night. They can give an intense orange glow to a gray sky with low and mid-level clouds.

This happened while I was photographing Playa de la Arnia one morning. The city of Santander behind the cliffs in the distance illuminated the middle clouds to create a spectacular scenery that looks like a dramatic sunrise.

The glow of the sky is best experienced at the beginning of the morning blue hour or at the end of the evening. Because it’s quite dark outside, you often need to expose for a minute or more to show detail in the landscape. An alternative is to increase your camera’s ISO, which allows you to use shorter exposures at the expense of image quality.

I usually use high ISO photos to optimize my composition in the dark and get an idea of ​​what the glow will look like in the final image. With the naked eye it often appears much less spectacular than what the camera reveals in a long exposure. A shorter exposure at high ISO can also help calculate the correct exposure time for the final low ISO photo. If you have to expose for 10 seconds at ISO 1,600 to get a good tonal distribution in the image, you have to keep the shutter open for 160 seconds at ISO 100 for a similar result.

To capture the full dynamic range of the scene, you should also include some shorter exposures to keep the bright orange colors from clipping. Another technique you can use is time blending, which I talked about in a previous article. If your foreground is too dark when capturing the sky glow, take additional photos during the blue hour and use them to reveal more detail through exposure blending.

In the mornings, after capturing the glow, I usually leave my camera in place and take additional photos for the foreground as it gets lighter. In the evening I start my photo shoot around sunset to capture the complete transition from day to night. Photo of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline shows how a gray sky first turns blue at sunset and then begins to absorb the city’s reflected light.


You don’t always need as much glow as in the Playa de la Arnia photo to get an interesting result. Sometimes just a hint of orange or magenta in the sky is enough, as can be seen in the photo of Kuala Lumpur. If I had taken it later, the whole sky would have turned orange, including most of the city. At this point, the image would have had a noticeable color cast that is usually difficult to correct. When a city’s lightbulbs are the only source of light in a photo, the natural colors disappear behind a haze of orange. For a balanced image, avoid this monochromatic look. The goal is to show at least one additional dominant color.

If you time your exposure correctly, the blue hour provides that balance. Eventually, the orange glow and the ambient light in the sky will balance. It’s the moment you should try to capture. Leave your camera on the spot all morning or evening and snap lots of photos. Later, choose the one with the best colors for post-processing, or combine multiple images for the best result.

photo editing

You have to be careful if you want to blend photos taken during a period of changing light. The colors of the blue hour often don’t blend well with those captured when the sky is lit. If you want to use the blue hour photos to show more detail while preserving the colors of the skyglow image, you can use the luminance blending mode:

  1. Make the photo with the glowing sky the base layer.

  2. Put the blue hour images on top and set their layer mode to luminosity.

  3. If there have been shifts between the different images, select and use all of the layers Edit – Auto-Align Layers….

  4. Apply a black mask to all layers except your base layer.

  5. Use a soft white brush and start painting the details.

In addition to these steps, adjusting white balance, brightness and contrast during raw processing helps to better match the photos before loading them into layers in Photoshop. This step is something you should do in preparation for any exposure blend. It will help you get much more seamless results. If you de-skew the images properly, you don’t even need special masking techniques during the transition.

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