Harry guinness

While normal people love sunny days with bright blue skies, most photographers prefer cloudy or overcast days, at least if they plan to take photos. Let’s explore why.

Light is the most important element in any photograph. This is what gives shape to everything in the image. And unless you’re exclusively working in a studio with powerful flashes that you’re in complete control of, you’re normally at the mercy of whatever the sun and weather does. If the light is super dramatic and awesome, it can seem impossible to take a bad photo. But if the light is dull and uninspiring, even the most impressive scene can look mundane.

An abandoned cabin in an overgrown field
This photo is good, but a more interesting sky would add a lot to it. Harry guinness

The best light, however, does not necessarily mean the best light. more light. Bright sun is difficult to work with and can easily dominate your images. So whether you’re taking portraits, landscapes, sports shots, or nature shots, let’s take a look at some of the reasons cloudy days are so great for taking photos.

Cloudy days have a softer, more pleasant light

cloudy portrait
Cloudy days are great for portraits. Harry guinness

While direct sunlight is great for sunbathing, it is difficult to work with for photography. The biggest problem is that it casts harsh shadows which, while dramatic, don’t make people look so good. If you are not careful, you can get unexpected reflections, too much.

In addition, most digital cameras I don’t have the dynamic range to capture all the details in shadows and highlights at the same time. It means that your photo will be either overexposed or underexposed– and you can’t even fix things in an image editor afterwards. Sometimes you can use techniques like High dynamic range (HDR) photography, but they come with their own additional problems.

cloudy portrait
Soft light is flattering and easy to work with. Harry guinness

Cloudy days, on the other hand, have a much easier light to use. Sunlight is diffused by clouds, so the whole sky turns into a great source of soft light. This means you get much more even lighting that casts softer shadows. It is much more forgiving to shoot with it and is especially flattering for portraits.

Cloudy skies are more interesting

dramatic sky
The clouds aren’t anything special here, but they always add drama. Harry guinness

While direct sunlight casts dramatic shadows, blue skies are just blue skies. They all look alike, and not much is happening.

Cloudy skies, however, can be a subject in itself. A few large streaks of white clouds can give your photos an impression of movement.

The thick dark gray clouds make everything moody, tense and dramatic.

cloudy landscape
Again, the clouds add a lot to this landscape. Harry guinness

Even fairly normal-looking clouds can simply brighten up an otherwise empty sky.

Cloudy days can be more consistent from photo to photo

cloudy sky landscape
Harry guinness

Natural light is constantly changing. This can change dramatically in the time it takes you to take a handful of images.

With cloudy days, these changes tend to be less chaotic, with things just getting a little brighter or darker. You may need to adjust your exposure settings, but you’re unlikely to have to mix things up drastically.

However, on sunny days the changes are constant. Even where you stand in relation to your subject affects the appearance of light. If you move a few meters to the left or right, it can completely change the angle of it and thus alter the photo. Plus, it’s not just the light levels that change. If the sun sets for a few moments behind a cloud or if you step into the shade, the temperature or color of the light will change so each image may need to be processed individually.

But it always depends

Of course, we are talking here in general terms. It is possible to take incredible images on bright, sunny days, especially at sunrise or sunset. It’s just that cloudy days, especially for people who are just new to photography, are more forgiving and easier to get great photos.

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