Cloudscapes are ‘Scapes too!

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Cloudscape photography is photography of clouds or sky, that’s what Wikipedia will tell you, and they really wouldn’t be far off on that one!

Honestly though, cloudscapes are quite literally one of the best mediums our novice slash young budding photographers can use to get a feel for composition and what is really eye catching in photographs. Why? You ask?

Easy! Cloudscapes are truly beautiful in that you’re never going to get two of the same shot, and the subject poses however it likes whether it’s by some divine paint brush or simply luck, mother nature will often pepper your blue sky with some of the most artistic and desirable fluff your eyes can believe, and as ‘capturers of moments in time,’ the lot of us, us photographers, it’s quite obviously our duty, not to mention our privilege, to be able to find the gems in the great big blue and share the moment with as many as we can. With a couple examples and a few tips and tricks, I’ll bet you could give the sky another shot, quite literally!

As for equipment, well, you know I use my Canon EOS 350D with standard lens, and while I might have already figured every last bit about that I can, that doesn’t mean you can’t use what you have! Honestly, yes, the wide angle adds amazing effect to cloudscapes especially when trying to really show off that crazy perspective, but there are ways to work around that if you don’t have a wide angle, have a look at the examples and enjoy a small tour of the sky.


Example 1

I like to include a particularly boring shot in my examples, because a boring shot can teach you a lot, and it certainly taught me! Yes, this is no doubt a sunset photo, but I’m sure that what caught your eye immediately is the rather hideous blowout/washout of colours in this image; it’s not that great at all! The photo is never supposed to make your eyes hurt! I loved the golden glow of the sun this evening, I loved how it illuminated the clouds into such lovely shades of colour but my slack photo taking doesn’t convey any of this other than that the sun was still bright as ever, and the resultant headache is great testament to that hah!

Way’s to improve? Well, it’s safe to assume that under-exposing this photo might have brought out a better colour swatch, not to mention have saved the vicious brightness on the sensor! Toning the blacks up a lot in RAW would have helped the slightest, but nothing is going to fix the way the sun is washing everything out.


Example 2

Jacques, it’s a photo of a feather, silly fool! No doubt it’s a photo of a feather, give it a second more and you’ll see that this photo is more about perspective than the feather, even though the feather looks good! I’ve used this as an example because cloudscapes have yet to be defined by anything other than ‘photos of clouds’ and for me personally this fluffy collection of clouds that zone the background of this image do a great service to anchoring the photograph.

As a side note, RAW allowed me the chance to isolate the feather so that it looks like something 3D in this image, I carefully brought blacks out to define the edges and actually raised the vibrancy and temperature to get the correct colour of the beach sand, play with those settings, they add drama like you cannot believe!


Example 3

Seeing animals in clouds, or any other pattern is something of a gift if you ask me personally, and I have yet to have my camera near enough to be able to capture the moment I think a cloud looks like a rabbit or other wise. None of that says anything about this image, sorry to those of you franticly looking for an animal or something in this image!

This image vertical, is plain and simple but great, the sky’s lovely and blue, just beginning to darken at the very top and the silhouette of the horizon anchors your perspective. The sunset is not important in this image, can you see that? Sunsets are an entire photographic element on their own, this image, was about the spray of patterns in the sky, the illumination from the sunset is nice, but it isn’t golden or orange or purple it’s just normal, but even something normal can be seen as something beautiful if you capture it right!


Example 5

Yes, this is exactly the same sky as example 4, dramatic change of mood no? A different crop and a few tweaks of my levels resulted in exactly the image I wanted to use in conjunction with a previous photo. In example 4 it’s all about the blue the spray of the clouds and the dimension of the sun’s light heading out and the darkness coming in. This image though, example 5, is a careful construction of RAW levels and a great crop to change the way you look at the photo, to change the perspective completely! The point I’m trying to make is that the way you take your photo isn’t the way the rest of the world has to see your photo, take it and make us see what you want us to see!


Example 6

Cloudscapes at night, they DO work! Careful though, time exposure is a finicky thing at night, and as you can see, the city’s lights illuminated the underside of these clouds something incredibly! Notice the two little twinkling stars? The stats for this photo are: 2.5secs exposure, and practically no level adjustments. That simple.


Example 7

A photograph I’m very proud of, even if it’s just because I know exactly what it felt like standing underneath this behemoth set of clouds covering the sky in a few moments. I shot this while in Bangkok, and this was one of the first monsoon downpours on its way. Literally, 3minutes and the skies were covered! The apocalyptic look of the image is enough to leave the viewer breathless. Everyone asks me what it was like, and to everyone I say the same thing, I’m just glad I had my camera! If you want me to comment on the apparent angle being a little off, I think all I can say is, remember this is a photograph of the clouds, not a cityscape, it could be corrected ever so slightly yes, but I was just to happy that it turned out like this without any adjustment.

There you have it, maybe it’s a little encouragement, maybe a little surprise, maybe I just showed you that sometimes even the sky itself needs documenting. Bottom line is, and I think the point I’m trying to make here, is that you should explore every avenue in the world of photography, and even if you find that you’re a macro specialist or strictly a family portrait photographer, there’s no reason you can’t shoot at the sky even just for kicks. You never know, you might end up wanting to frame a particular shot and put it up in a room, everyone loves commenting on a particularly beautiful arrangement in the sky!

One last tip? I’ll stress it again, RAW! RAW allows you access to the levels to turn that sky into something dramatic, something great!

A final word? IMPROVISE You don’t need the latest and greatest fish-eye or ultra wide angle to create some kind of perspective! Draw the attention in with something else if you need to, even if it’s a feather!

From me, Jacques Hugo, a keen and enthusiastic photographer, just like you, I bid you endless amazing photographs.

Keep shooting!

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