- Exposure mode: Shutter priority (S or Tv on your camera dial)
- Drive mode: Single shot
- Aperture: f/11ISO: 200
- Shutter speed: 1/200 seconds
photo by photoschmidt via iStock
To get the most pleasing photos of clouds, there are a few things you need to consider regarding the gear you use, the composition, and the camera settings.
In this introductory tutorial on how to photograph clouds, we’ll address each of these topics in-depth, that way you have a strong base of knowledge to create the most impactful photos.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
How to Photograph Clouds: You Need a Polarizing Filter
Of all the filters you should have in your camera bag, a polarizing filter is the most important.
Polarizers offer a ton of benefits, including reducing glare off of water and minimizing atmospheric haze, which makes distant objects in the landscape appear crisper and cleaner.
With regard to photographing clouds, polarizers boost the contrast in the sky, making the atmosphere a deeper blue and the clouds a brighter white.
The pop that results from this improved contrast is a great asset to have when taking photos of clouds during the daytime - rather than having a sky that’s dull and washed out, you have one that jumps out of the image.
How to Photograph Clouds: Concentrate on Interesting Compositions
photo by joebelanger via iStock
Very seldom are photos of clouds by themselves all that compelling.
To spice up the composition, you need to add elements that provide interest and appeal to the image without taking attention away from the structure, shape, and color of the clouds.
For example, adding even just a hint of the landscape below the clouds, as was done above, helps ground the image and give viewers a better understanding of the sheer size and scale of the clouds in the shot. The lightning bolt doesn’t hurt in the visual appeal department either!
photo by skynesher via iStock
As another example, you can incorporate a much greater portion of the landscape in the photo without diminishing the impact of the clouds if there is a reflection in the image.
The photo above demonstrates this perfectly - the color and shape of the clouds is on full display both in the sky and in the water’s reflection, so even though the mountains occupy a large part of the frame, the clouds still have a ton of appeal.
If you photograph clouds as sunset, a good asset to have in your camera bag is a quality reverse graduated neutral density filter like the one shown above by Haida.
These filters are made specifically for shooting at sunrise and sunset, when the brightest part of the sky is just above the horizon.
To accommodate that, these filters have their darkest tinting in the middle to bring down the brightness of that area. The tint then lightens as you extend above and below the midline to help you turn featureless skies and landscapes into something breathtaking (as shown in the before and after images above).
How to Photograph Clouds: Use the Right Camera Settings
photo by BeyondImages via iStock
When photographing clouds, the key camera setting you need to master is shutter speed.
At a very basic level, if you want to retain the shape of the clouds as you see them, you need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze their movement. If you prefer a dreamy, blurry look to the clouds, you’ll need to extend the shutter speed.
Things are a little more complicated than that, though not overly complicated.
When you want to freeze the movement of clouds, try the following settings as a good place to start:
Determining the camera settings to blur the motion of clouds is a little more complex, because you’ll need to extend the shutter speed, and to do that, you’ll need a neutral density filter (in most cases).
In the video above, Mike Perea offers a detailed look at how to blur the movement of clouds with and without a neutral density filter.
With that, you have a little more insight into how to capture beautiful photos of clouds.
Give each of these tips a try and see how they can positively impact the photos you create!