The Season of Clouds
It’s my favorite time of the year in the Eastern Sierra, monsoon season! Monsoon moisture down in the Gull of California brings the moisture and the heat of the Owens Valley makes the afternoon clouds. In the mid afternoon, we can have down pours that literally create creeks where hours before was dirt. Other than the lightning hitting a very dry forest possibly causing fires, this summer event is something I always look forward to. Why? The clouds have such drama that you can almost shoot anything with them and you have a great photo. It takes no talent, just some time.
There are many ways to photograph these massive towers of moisture but chasing them at sunset it one of the most rewarding. The challenge is finding the spot to make your stand. That’s because as the sun sets, the thunderheads loose their main power source and as such, loose their energy and dissipate. They also loose their energy as they drop their moisture (known as rain). These factors make the clouds fall apart really fast. I’ve chased these giants many times only to have them turn into nothing in minutes. See the peaks in the foreground in there photos? They are there not only because of scale but also because they keep sending up jets of energy which keeps the clouds around as long as possible. If you look at my big cloud photos, you almost will always see peaks in the foreground, that’s my trick.
Photographically, remember two things, you need a split grad and need to switch WB to Cloudy. The tops of the thunderheads can be thousands of feet above their base which means they still have sun when the bases do not. You don’t want that white at the top taking the eye up and away. Use the split grad to pull them tops back down. Switch to Cloudy WB not because you’re shooting clouds but for the reds. AWB just never captures the reds like Cloudy and your want the reds. After that, just have fun and enjoy the show. It’s one of Mother Nature’s best!