Nature Photography: Tips for Great Cloudy Day Photos

Nature photography relies on your sensitivity to the natural light above all else. You have surely heard that for good landscape photography, you generally want sunny conditions, early or late in the day when the light is low and soft.

tips for landscape photography

Photo by Fred Moore; ISO 100, f/11.0, 1/45-second exposure.

However, this does not apply to every situation, and busy lifestyles do not always allow us to choose the conditions in which we take our photos.

Have you ever planned and set aside a day to get out and practice your nature photography, only to wake up to grey, cloudy skies? You are not alone, this happens to us all; professional and beginner alike. And of course when you are traveling, you often only have one chance to take your photos before moving on, so you have to make the best of the situation as you find it.

Photographers, don’t despair. There are many situations that suit cloudy skies just fine; in fact, there are some situations when cloudy skies are the best option for a good nature photo. Here are just a few situations that you could explore when cloudy weather threatens to derail your photography outing.

#1. Wildlife Photography (Pets and People, Too)

Bright sunlight can be a problem when shooting wildlife. In the middle part of the day, the sun can create heavy shadows which make exposure difficult, and rob your photo of essential colour and detail that gives the subject its character. Worst of all, sunlight can create shadows on the face of your subject. As you know, the most important element of a good wildlife photo is the eyes. If the eyes in your photo are lost in shadow, the personal connection with the subject is lost.

Animals do not like looking into the sun any more than you do, so even early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the light is softer, photography can be difficult. More often than not, you will probably find your subject turning away from the light.

tips for wildlife photography

Photo by James Blunt.

If you take your photo on a cloudy day, you can capture your wildlife subject in soft, even light that allows perfect exposure without ugly shadows. There will also be less glare reflecting off shiny surfaces (a snake’s skin, a bird’s feathers, etc.) so your picture can actually appear more colourful.

#2. Sunset Photography

Clouds create a much more interesting sunset photo than clear skies. All you need is for the sun to break through the clouds as they cross the horizon. A good nature photographer learns to read the sky and try to predict what is coming. Often on a grey, cloudy day you will notice that the only patch of clear sky is far away near the horizon. If that is the case, you can go looking for a good location and set up for your sunset photo.

With a bit of luck, there will be several breaks in the clouds before the sun goes down. If so, you could be on the spot to photograph spectacular sunbeams, a truly wonderful effect that every nature photography hopes to capture.

tips for sunset photography

Photo by Richard Rydge; ISO 200, f/14.0, 1.1700-second exposure.

Like all things in nature photography, all the planning in the world means nothing without a bit of luck. You may get your photo all set up, only to see the gap in the clouds close and your chance of a good photo disappear. Persistence wins in the end, so keep trying and from time to time you will end up with some breathtaking sunset photos.

#3. Rainforest Photography

When the sun shines brightly through the rainforest canopy, it creates patches of light and shade that make perfect exposure next to impossible. You simply can’t manage the contrast in these conditions.

Cloudy weather is actually the best way to take good rainforest photos. Some would say the cloudier the better, because if your rainforest is high enough to be in the clouds, you can capture some very atmospheric misty effects in the forest.

tips for nature photos

Photo by Pfly; ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/250-second exposure.

I live in South East Queensland, so I am close to both the beach and some fabulous rainforest. My rule is: If it’s sunny, go to the beach. If the weather is grey and cloudy, grab your camera and head for the rainforest.

I hope that next time you wake up to cloudy skies, you will not let that stop you from getting out there to take some great nature photos. As your experience grows, you will find it easier to read the light and know what sort of photography suits the conditions. Until then, practice, practice, practice!

About the Author:
Andrew Goodall writes for and is a nature photographer based in Australia. He manages a gallery in Montville full of landscape photography from throughout Australia.

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  1. Richey says:

    Great article. I live in Western New York and this time of year all we get is cloudy days and lots of snow. I’m new to photography and this article gave me some great ideas. Basically I have two choices, stay in and not take pictures till spring, or learn how to shoot in poor light. Thanks for the tips !

  2. John Teague says:

    Lame article.

    Regarding the first suggestion, the author neglects to mention that overcast days often produce photos that lack vibrance and depth because there isn’t enough light to illuminate colors and create shadows. I agree that taking photos in harsh light has great disadvantages as well, but I would rather have too much light than not enough. Beyond the in-camera adjustments we make during exposure, problems such as glare can be muted by filters on the camera or lighting controls in software. However, once the picture is taken, adding light is a lot more difficult. Our cameras and software are far more limited by the relative paucity of 1s and 0s available in low-light situations than by the abundance of bits in bright light. That’s why so many photography teachers advise us to “expose to the right.”

    In that first section, the author also fails to admit that overcast skies tend to be boring in photos. It’s one thing if you can get some texture from dramatic clouds or fog, but a uniformly cloudy sky is just nothing.

    Oddly, the author stresses the need to capture a glint of light in animals’ eyes, which I agree is essential, but the photo chosen to illustrate this point shows no light in the animals’ eyes. (Not sure if that’s the author’s fault.)

    His second suggestion amounts to this: “If the sky is overcast, just hope the sun comes out at the right time.” Well, duh.

    His third suggestion amounts to this: “Go to a rainforest.” Oh . . . great.

    Overall, the author did nothing to improve my attitude toward overcast days, but I won’t let this silly article affect my belief that shooting on overcast days is better than not shooting at all.

  3. Peter Jones says:

    Enjoyed your article Andrew, thank you!

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