Worried about those clouds rolling in on session day? Don’t stress! Here’s how to use those clouds to your advantage!

There appear to be rumors going around that clouds during a photography session are a terrible thing! Sure, you won’t often get that spectacular glow, or that amazingly killer sunburst on a cloudy day, but we’re here to help you use those clouds to your advantage. Clouds take a LOT of guess work out of the equation! Here’s why!

1. Clouds diffuse light!

All (well most) photographers hate harsh light! There is nothing worse than meeting a new family when you’re secretly panicking inside about the light. Been there, done that! The great thing about clouds is that they act like one BIG soft diffuser of the sun.  It’s mostly a free softbox, guys! This is awesome! Depending on the type of clouds, you’ll get different types of diffused light. If they are intermittent clouds, you may get some sun peering through in certain areas, or if the cloud cover is heavy, you’ll avoid shadows all together!

Cloudy Day

2. Clouds create EVEN light. Mostly.

The great thing above all else when it comes to cloudy day photography is that it creates soft even lighting! This is what we want, folks. When it comes to taking photos, we typically preach light over location ALL THE TIME.  Clouds allow you to have more options to place your clients, whereas, with harsh, directional lighting, you have to be strategic in your subject placement (more on direct lighting here).  With portrait photography, you ALWAYS want even lighting on your subject AND in the background.  With harsh lighting, many times one part of the photo may be blown out, there are crazy shadows or dark under-eye shadows.  This even lighting CAN be your best friend if you know how to use it to your advantage!

BUT, and there’s always a but…did you know that even the most overcast days have a directional light? If you’re like me, you probably didn’t. Even on those cloudy days, there will be brighter areas of the sky. A quick tip when it comes to portrait photography is to point your clients TOWARDS that bright spot in the sky to illuminate those faces! (Basically the opposite of harsh light.) We want to use that bright diffused light to our advantage. If you use this light the same as you would harsh light, you’re going to get dark eye sockets and slight shadows on the face.

3. How clouds affect your camera settings?

So we need to remember that on a bright sunny day, your ISO setting is probably going to be 100.  On a cloudy day, you may need to bump this up to 400, or 800.  A little trick I use on my Canon Mark III is to put my ISO on automatic and see what my camera reads.  When you focus on your subject, it will tell you on your display, what ISO it calculates.  Now, I don’t always use what my camera tells me, but it’s a great reference if you’re unsure!  To let more light into our cameras, we may also need to widen our aperture or decrease our shutter speed (although I don’t love to do this). Make sure to remember that shutter speed is very important to nail that crisp focus that we all want, so only reduce it slightly. Like I mentioned, start with ISO first, as a little bit of grain never killed anyone! Read more on understanding and mastering ISO!

4. Try to find bursts/pools of light.

If you find that the clouds are interspersed with light, try to use it to your advantage! Take a look at the ground and see if there are any “pools” of light on the ground that can create that pretty glow! Place your clients with the sun on the back of their heads (if it’s direct), and backlight them! That creates a beautiful glow that will illuminate from behind! But…always make sure to find a light source to brighten your subjects in the front!

Cloudy Day Photography

5. How to brighten your subjects on a cloudy day.

A great way to brighten up those images during darker cloudy days is to find a spot where that minimal diffused light is going to bounce back on your subject.  Instead of using a reflector, use light colored surfaces in neutral colors! Even though there doesn’t appear to be a lot of light in the sky, there IS, so use it!

This photo was taken on a cloudy day! The reason her skin is so bright is because she was standing on a white marble walkway that was reflecting the light on to her dress and face!

6. Use those clouds in your composition!

Cloud Composition

On those dark days, use those stormy clouds to your advantage! Having a dramatic sky can add a lot of interest to a photo. You can also play with colors and saturation in post-processing, so you could end up with a very dynamic photo that tells a story! Read more on altering your photo composition!

7. Editing in black and white.

Sometimes we inevitably get home, cull through our images and find that something is missing in our photos or they simple just look flat and boring! A great way to save these images in post is to change them to black and white! We can also play with the highlights and shadows that can make our pictures more bold and dramatic.

8. The use of color on a cloudy day!

So how can we make those overcast days less boring? Add color! If you’re a portrait photographer and live in a perpetually cloudy place like I do, ask your clients to wear a pop of color in their clothing! This can brighten an image and make it more appealing to the eye.

Cloudy day photography may seem like a breeze compared to those harsh lighting situations, but don’t be fooled. There are always little hacks to make your photos even better than you thought, and set you apart from your competition! Remember these tips and tricks the next time those clouds start rolling in!