A sky without clouds is…well…boring.

This is one of those quirky situations where the photograph fails to do justice to the real thing.  We may think that a brilliant, cloudless day is perfect.  And it might be for many outdoor activities but landscape photography isn’t one of them.  Consider sunsets and sunrises — occasionally you will see a beautiful glow but they just aren’t the same without clouds to add interest.

Actually, clouds can improve a landscape well beyond just minimizing the boredom factor.

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Check out this seaside photo I made somewhere in Wales.  I was able to get my camera in position to use the clouds as a mimic to the rocky land form and to make a far better composition than if either the land form or the cloud were absent.  The rocky outcropping sits on the rough foreground while the cloud formation appears to sit on the ocean.

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Here is another.  In this one the wispy cloud somehow goes well with the fine branches of the tree growing from the old house wall.  (I darkened the sky in Lightroom — both images — to make the cloud forms sharper.)  This composition device, similarity of shape, is as old as the hills but it still pleases the eye.

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In this photo I used the threatening clouds to help tell a story.  The tiny sailboat on the horizon looks lonely but the menacing clouds add an element of pending disaster to the story.  Additionally, the reflection of the sky and, further back, the clouds give the whole composition more interest and depth.

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Now here is another thought about clouds:  Sometime they are so powerful that they take over the image.  I think that, in this situation, you might as well go ahead and give the clouds center stage.  This little seascape was made at the Bay of Islands on the North Island in New Zealand.  There is a sunset happening (to the left outside of the frame) but these clouds are not a part of it.  Rather the clouds are being lighted by the low, warm light of the setting sun as it passes through — and is colored by — the earth’s atmosphere.   It was so striking that I decided to make the image about the clouds; the moored boat is incidental.  The late Gaylen Rowell made a handsome living by photographing this evening and morning light projected onto clouds and mountain tops.

Another note of interest:  I didn’t put a lot of planning into any of these cloud pictures.  I was there, the opportunity presented itself, and I made the image.  If there is a lesson it is to be aware of your surroundings.  Clouds can present almost limitless possibilities.

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Guy Davies - Hi John, I agree with you about clouds. They can be wonderfully photogenic in their own right, or they can be used to support a good landscape. Sometimes you find clouds that can turn a pleasant scene into a dramatic one, especially in black & white. Very occasionally, though, a plain blue sky may be what you want. I have in mind shooting some strong angular architecture, looking up with a wide angle lens. I made the image mono and just wanted the drama of the angular shapes against a plain black sky, so puffy white clouds would have destroyed the drama by adding gentle curves to the composition.

skeeter - You are right, of course, Guy. I used that in a shot I made in Greece many years ago. Plunder around in the archives of my blog and you will find one called “…but is it art?”. Good to hear from you again, Guy.

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