How to Read Clouds as a Photographer

Having been a wedding photographer in Sydney for a few years, I’m continually amazed at how much my photography is dependent on weather conditions. What I have found more surprising, however, is how much this has driven me to study weather patterns—clouds, in particular. In a sense, a good photographer is also a good meteorologist. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to cloud patterns as a photographer. If so, this article is for you, and my goal is to persuade you to become a good meteorologist.

In an industry where art and texture are everything, you won’t want to miss the enormous spectre of the sky on your shoot. Growing in your ability to read the clouds will determine and enhance your shoot. There are a few key clouds I encourage you to read and use to your visual advantage.

Cirrus Clouds

First are the “high” clouds, called cirrus clouds. They are atmospheric clouds shaped like white, wispy tufts. When they extend like sheets, they are then known as cirrostratus clouds and have a beautiful veil-like appearance to them. These clouds provide a wonderful textured backdrop to your wedding photos, and when you boost your recovery levels to high in Lightroom, it really emphasizes the texture. You may rest assured that there is low likelihood of precipitation with cirrus clouds.

cirrus clouds

photo by Chris Collins

Altocumulus Clouds

Secondly, there are the altocumulus clouds, which are at the middle level and are grouped into masses or rolls like cotton balls. They are often rippled and have dark shading, which results in a very epic look, especially if you boost the contrast in post-production. However, they may also signal thunderstorms later in the day, especially when they gather height. In my experience, when you encounter altocumulus clouds, make the most of them, but be sure you have a plan in case light showers do come.

Stratus Clouds

Thirdly, there are the typical middle (altostratus) or low (nimbostratus) cloud sheets, which are evenly dull depending on their weight. They color the sky uniformly, reducing it by several shades of dark grey. When photographing in this weather, remember to boost your exposure and leave the rest to post-production. The chance for rain is fairly high, so I recommend you definitely have a wet weather backup plan!

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Finally there are the large, mushroom-shaped clouds called cumulonimbus, which are very tall and dense. These epic clouds often produce lightning, so if you are very daring you may use this to your advantage by capturing a lightning shot in the background as you shoot the bride and groom!

cumulonimbus clouds

photo by Zooey

I hope this small survey has persuaded you that a good photographer is also a good meteorologist. Rather than despising the weather conditions on your wedding shoot, observe the weather patterns and use them to your advantage.

About the Author:
Dan Au Photography runs on love, vibrance, and personality. As a wedding photographer in Sydney, they deliver story-telling, candid moments, and imaginative concepts. And all with a fun-loving (and quirky!) heart.

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2 responses to “How to Read Clouds as a Photographer”

  1. Max says:

    In London we have 2 types of cloud: milky white overcast and solid grey overcast. Both are very dull though for portraits the sky is constantly like a huge soft box, so there is some benefit

  2. klem39 says:

    Lats time I was in UK, I was picked up at Heathrow and driven up to North Wales. I was amazed at the number of flights over head. There was never less than 15 and as each one faded a new one appeared. The result was a continuous layer of cloud caused by these Con trails. Out in the countryside they acted to reflect down the light from the city street lights. Also it meant that people never looked up and didn’t know about the stars.
    This they, mainly under 30 yr, seemed to take as natural. I can understand those in the city but why don’t the country folk complain?? Or do they?

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