One element that can make or break the scene for a landscape photo

It has been a slow month for my landscape photography. In fact I haven’t taken a single photo (the longest period without shooting since I got my camera). We have seen long periods of overcast, rainy and windy days as well as a week where there was not a single cloud in the sky. Neither situation is usually conducive to beautiful landscape photos.

This last statement got me thinking; one of the most influential elements in a landscape photo is the clouds. You could turn up at the most beautiful location with low overcast clouds, and your photo will probably not look that great. On the other hand you could be at an otherwise boring location with a lots of colorful clouds reflecting a beautiful sunset and end up with a stunner of a photo. Now I’m not saying too many or no clouds at all will never look good, however I am saying that in most situations clouds add a unique character to a scene that will never again be repeated.

During my favourite time to photograph (sunrise and sunset) clouds pay an important role in adding colour to the sky. When the sun is near or below the horizon and there are no clouds blocking the light’s path, the sun will shine at a steep angle through the earths atmosphere creating beautiful colours. Unfortunately we never see this light if there is nothing to reflect it back to us. That is why clouds above the horizon are so important for sunrise and sunset shots. This is also why clouds directly on the horizon can prevent the beautiful colours from being seen as they block the light from reaching the clouds higher up.

Lower level clouds tend to reflect yellow and orange. Medium to high level clouds reflect reds and pinks.

Here are some examples of low-medium height clouds:


And here some good representations of medium to high clouds:

I consider clouds to be so important to landscape photos that I won’t bother going out if I don’t think they will produce beautiful skies.

Well that is it for this post. Hopefully this has been helpful in understanding why clouds are so important to beautiful landscape photos.

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