“Dances with Clouds,” what my good friend Joe McNally called me once. That’s because I turn to the heavens every opportunity I can to get help telling my visual story. Clouds can set the stage, be the background that will make or break your photograph. That is if you take in all the other elements in the frame and incorporate them along with the clouds.
Here is my favorite little church out on The Palouse. I visit it at least once every time I’m on The Palouse because it is never the same. When there are no clouds, it is a photographic challenge. When there are clouds, the challenge then becomes what I want to say. Look at these two photographs of the same church shot on two different trips. Do you see the one thing that made me change where I stood and the lens I selected? You might be fooled and think it was the clouds but actually, it was the trees! The trees not only changed lenses and location I shot, but also exposure. I went 24-70f2.8 so I could stand down the hill and put the church up on the rise so the spring green of the trees “hold” the church. I used the Z14-30 and stood closer so the bare trees seem to defend the church. While the clouds made it all come together, without the trees, the clouds wouldn’t have made the photo, visa versa as well. So next time when you have clouds in the viewfinder ask yourself, do clouds set the story?
The skies were gray, the plane is gray so I instantly and quickly thought B&W. A WWI French fighter, the Nieuport 17 on the grass with those clouds quickly caught my eye. I grabbed the Z6 / 105f1.4 (@f1.4), got down slightly and went click. Since I have access to this aircraft, it’s a theme I plan on working on. I think there is a stronger image to be crafted.
This question came in not once, but twice over the weekend in response to an Instagram photo I posted. I take that as a great compliment! There is a reason my bud McNally calls me “Dances with Clouds” and that’s because I can’t pass up a good cloud. And that’s where it all starts the challenge for many, determining if it’s a good cloud or not. There are a couple of key elements in my approach to a romantic cloud photograph and that does it have character and will finishing bring out that character? What’s cloud character? In my mind that comes from the shape(s) in and about the cloud that shades of blacks, whites, and grays create (foreground earth is key here as well). The way the light plays on the shape and texture in the cloud is key! To see this I think you need to have a vivid imagination which I have. I’m not talking about seeing a face or critter in the clouds but rather, design elements that move the eye around the frame while touching the heart. Clouds require heart. The challenge in this is seeing what’s actually there and what will come forth in the digital darkroom tying this all up in drama.
What you’re seeing at the top is the finished photo, the bottom what the camera captured. You can see what I saw in both instances, the character I saw in reality and that in which I envisioned. In this photo, the main character is the “formation” that is dead center in the frame with the highlight on the right and the darkness on the left moving the eye through the frame once finished. Now part of this equation is knowing how the image will finish in post. It’s kinda which came first, the pixel or the egg? Working with Luminar, I knew exactly how the Preset I created would make that center formation pop. So those two elements I count on in my cloud photography might be the biggest challenge for your cloud photography that only time and playing in post will make successful. Until you come across that next great cloud, take one you have in your files now and start experimenting with the post processing that makes your passion come alive. Then remember that as you frame up those floating pillows of drama.