It's a real bummer to be looking forward to a bright sunny shoot, only to step out your door to find overcast and cloudy skies. This doesn't have to be all gloom though!
I call beautiful Seattle, Washington home. While the mention of this city often evokes the imagination of rainy days, what you get more than anything is cloud cover. On average, Seattle is cloudy 62% of the year, especially in the fall and winter. If you're a photographer in this part of the world, you have to learn to make it work for you.
In fact, clouds offer just as much reason for photo excitement as a sunny day, and I'm going to show you why! ⛅️👍
The Benefits of Shooting On A Cloudy Day
If you're into the light and airy style, you may be surprised to find that a cloudy day can be just what you want.
- An overcast sky essentially turns the sun into a giant softbox. This means that you get big, beautiful, diffused light and lovely, soft shadows.
- Clouds create gradual transitions between highlights and shadows.
- Big, soft light means even skin tones for your subjects.
- Color easily stands out when shooting during an overcast day.
- Amazing backlighting is possible on a cloudy day.
If these reasons alone don't make you want to run out and shoot, I don't know what will!
Make Good Use of Color
This is a perfect time to use color as a key element in the story of your images. With the flat, even lighting from an overcast sky, a pop of color goes a long way. Especially colors in the red/yellow families!
Meter for Shadows
This is common practice anyway, but metering for the shadows is especially crucial in such soft light. Doing so ensures that you have higher definition in the available highlights, which will help in adding dimension to your images.
Create Directional Light
The general lack of directional light is why many fear cloudy days. You just have to know how to work with it. Depending on the intensity of the overcast, you may have enough light to bounce onto your subject, but you should rely more on negative fill.
Instead of adding light, you will take it away. The easiest way to do this is to have your subject stand close to something dark; a building, tree, sign, etc. You could also use the black side of a reflector. This negative fill will reduce the light reflected on that side of the subject and create greater dimension.
Below is an example of negative fill in use. On the left, you see the image with no fill at all, and on the right, an assistant holds up the black side of a five-in-one to create contrast on that side of the subject's face.
Use Cloud Breaks or Light Pools
This is a wonderful advantage of cloudy-day shooting. Every once in a while, the clouds will shift just enough to allow a pool of sunlight through. When this happens, adjust your settings and use it while you can. If you're shooting in the middle of the day, find a spot off of which the light reflects.
Use the Backlight
This is perhaps the primary reason that a cloudy day is great for lovers of the light and airy look. You can still use the sun as a backlight, but because it is so diffused, you'll easily be able to keep detail in both your subjects and the sky.
Try it in black and white.
You don't have to do the whole shoot in black and white, but the tones are so great that you'd be remiss not to try it out!
Here are a few images from a cloudy Seattle day, edited with the Kodak Tri-X 400 preset in Capture One.
These settings will undoubtedly vary a bit depending on the time of day, the severity of the overcast, and of course personal aesthetic preferences. In general, you should expect to have a bit higher in your ISO. 400-800 will most likely be where you stay, but don't be surprised if it needs to be a bit higher.
You should be comfortable quickly changing your settings. This is especially true while shooting on a partly cloudy day, where the clouds frequently move in front of and away from the sun.
I personally like to rely more on my aperture for exposure adjustments in a scenario like this, and leave my ISO and shutter speed as static as possible.
If you're shooting film on a cloudy day, I'd recommend at least 400 ISO, and you may consider pushing the film a stop to be safe.
Shooting on a cloudy or overcast day is like any other lighting environment. It's going to come with its pros and cons. Use a day like this as an opportunity to create images that you can't otherwise create. Learn to work with this light, and it will give you amazing results!
What are your thoughts on shooting with overcast skies? Let us know in the comments below!
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