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Archive for Sunday, May 16, 2010

Behind the Lens: Shooting photos of clouds a challenging enterprise

This group of long parallel clouds across a northwestern Kansas sky had a friend and I searching back roads for a green spring wheat field to include in the landscape. This shot was taken with a wide-angle lens and slighty underexposed.

This group of long parallel clouds across a northwestern Kansas sky had a friend and I searching back roads for a green spring wheat field to include in the landscape. This shot was taken with a wide-angle lens and slighty underexposed.

May 16, 2010

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Behind the Lens: Cloud photography

Clouds have long been an inspiration for photographers and painters. Directing your camera at clouds alone or including them in landscapes can lead to dramatic images. Enlarge video

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Comments

Randall Barnes 4 years, 7 months ago

my cheap $100 camera from walmart takes some awesome pics, just of good quality as your $2,000 camera and lens.ohhh and increadble video. i have several storm chasers across the country who want to know what kind of camera i have because mine takes better pics and videos than an over priced camera.

Majestic42 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, if you don't know how to USE a professional-level camera, of course the picture quality is the same. "Over-priced" is a relative term, doofus.

BlackVelvet 4 years, 7 months ago

please post some of your photographic prowess for us to admire, rando!

Matt Needham 4 years, 7 months ago

Although I don't see anyplace where Mike mentions camera model or price, I'm sure he would agree that cloud photos can be taken with any camera. As long as there is plenty of light even the compact digital cameras will do a fine job.

If the camera is in any sort of auto-exposure mode, and the clouds are bright, it will tend to underexpose on it's own (cameras expose to make middle gray tone). A polarizing filter will darken blue skies making the clouds stand out more.

beatrice 4 years, 7 months ago

Anyone who questions whether a place like Kansas can be beautiful should look at this photo! Minimal, simple, clean. Just Great!

Newell_Post 4 years, 7 months ago

Mike:

I have one word for you: Kodachrome. In the whole history of photography, there was never a more vivid way of capturing "saturated" skies and clouds than with Kodachrome. (Except maybe Kodachrome with a polarizing filter.)

Digital is great and getting better every day. But I miss Kodachrome. For old-time photographers, one of the great tragedies is that there is no more Kodachrome left in the world. They stopped making it. The last time I checked, there was only one lab left in the world that could still process the old stock still lingering out there in refrigerators and storage cabinets.

riverdrifter 4 years, 7 months ago

"The last time I checked, there was only one lab left in the world that could still process the old stock still lingering out there in refrigerators and storage cabinets."

Correct. It's in Parsons, Kansas. Kodachrome was great in that it was very forgiving. I'm a crappy photographer and it made a lot of nice images for me.

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