Clouds and Landscape Photography

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of clouds in Landscape Photography. When I started out doing Landscape I thought blue skies were the best. I guess if you’re used to boring overcast clouds of whitish-grey, the saturation of a blue sky is really pleasing to the eye. However, artistically, it becomes a large space with nothing interesting to hold your attention.

If you’re shooting Macro, these clouds are just what you needed as they diffuse the light leaving no harsh shadows and good saturation. Usually with Macro photography we aren’t including the sky in the photo anyway.

On the other hand, not all Landscape photos need the sky. Take a look at the photo of Spiderock in my earlier blog post here. The overcast sky took away from the mood I wanted to portray, so I left it out. I had to clone in some dark grasses (in Photoshop) in a small strip at the top. (not shown)

Finally, here’s an example from my recent trip to Arizona. The site is called Church Rock. As great as Church Rock is, the clouds made the composition. I used Nikon’s super wide-angle lens Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 to exaggerate the clouds.


More Info on Clouds

Wikipedia has a short article on clouds that might be helpful here.

Spiderock at Sunset

Just got back from a Photography Workshop in Arizona and Utah. For me this trip was a real test for my Nikon D3 and lenses. I wasn’t sure how well they would do for this kind of Landscape, shooting at f16, with tripod and remote shutter release. I say this because the prevailing belief seems to be that you need Medium Format to do justice to a great Landscape. I’m sure that 40 Megapixels makes a difference, especially when printing at very large sizes. However, the image below prints beautifully at 12×18, and can easily go larger. If Art is the goal, and not just sharpness for sharpness sake, the D3 at 12 Megapixels did just fine with the right lens, f-stop, and Mirror-up. :^}

Update: I have since this writing moved to Medium Format for the reasoning mentioned here and more. Printing larger is important with Landscapes. Additionally, Medium Format offers greater tonal range and color nuance that is equally important.

Spider Rock turned out to be the most dramatic (for me) due to some great light just before sunset one night. I’m not kidding when I say that this light lasted 10 seconds. Once again it shows that the first hurdle in Landscape photography is just being there. Sounds easy, but being there at the right time often means 6:00am and 8:00pm, when most folks are sleeping or resting after dinner. Add to that a hike to get to the best location and you can see the commitment that it takes.

Let me know what you think of it by leaving a comment!

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Technical Details: Nikon D3, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/30 sec, ISO 200 @f16

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