A friend and I made a photography excursion to northwest Kansas last weekend to visit the Arikaree Breaks.
These unique ravines and gullies run along the Kansas/Nebraska border and offer a wonderful scenic contrast to the typical plains landscape associated with the area. Unfortunately, for a pair of particularly picky photographers, the breaks were disappointing. The light was never right, and the land wasn't accessible to explore since most is privately owned.
What did grab our attention, and became the focus of some inspired photography, was over our heads: clouds! For three days, a bright blue sky provided a backdrop for one stunning display after another. One cloud-scape was so amazing that we quickly searched out a bright green wheat field to include beneath. It reminded me of a regular routine of mine at the newspaper. Whenever I see great clouds, I rush to find subjects to place in the frame just to incorporate the billowing tufts. Clouds are such important visual elements in landscapes that some have been known to photograph dramatic clouds separately and then merge them with other photographs to create composite images.
Whether alone or as part of a larger scene, clouds have for a long time inspired photographers and painters. Although not a book on photography, a good introduction is "The Cloudspotter's Guide - The Science, History and Culture of Clouds." Also visit the website www.cloudappreciationsociety.org where you can view photo galleries and upload your own cloud images.
For photographers here are a few tips
- Clouds are bright, and normal exposures can blow out highlight details. You'll get best results underexposing clouds. Experiment by reducing your exposure a couple f/stops.
- Pay attention to how clouds look in relationship to the sun's location. Photographing with the sun flattens clouds. Photographing toward the sun can darken clouds and produce beautiful rim light and add definition.
- A wide-angle lens enables you to incorporate elements on the ground with clouds above. Look for near subject matter to put in your photos to add scale and depth to your landscapes.