How to Read Clouds as a Photographer

Having been a wedding photographer in Sydney for a few years, I’m continually amazed at how much my photography is dependent on weather conditions. What I have found more surprising, however,  is how much this has driven me to study weather patterns–clouds, in particular. In a sense, a good photographer is also a good meteorologist. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to cloud patterns as a photographer. If so, this article is for you, and my goal is to persuade you to become a good meteorologist.

In an industry where art and texture are everything, you won’t want to miss the enormous spectre of the sky on your shoot. Growing in your ability to read the clouds will determine and enhance your shoot. As a photographer in Sydney, there are a few key clouds I encourage you to read and use to your visual advantage.

Cirrus Clouds

First are the “high” clouds called cirrus clouds. They are atmospheric clouds shaped like white, wispy tufts. When they extend like sheets, they are then known as cirrostratus clouds and have a beautiful veil-like appearance to them. These clouds provide a wonderful textured backdrop to your wedding photos, and when you boost your recovery levels to high in Lightroom, it really emphasises the texture. You may rest assured that there is low likelihood of precipitation with cirrus clouds.

“Slowdown” captured by Nicholas A. Tonelli. (Click image to see more from Nicholas A. Tonelli.)

Altocumulus Clouds

Secondly, there are the Altocumulus clouds, which are at the middle level and are grouped into masses or rolls like cotton balls. They are often rippled and have dark shading which results in a very epic look, especially if you boost the contrast in post-production. However, they may also signal thunderstorms later in the day, especially when they gather height. In my experience, when you encounter altocumulus clouds, make the most of them, but be sure you have a plan in case light showers do come.

“Pulsating” captured by Nicholas A. Tonelli. (Click image to see more from Nicholas A. Tonelli.)

Stratus Clouds

Thirdly, there are the typical middle (altostratus) or low (nimbostratus) cloud sheets, which are evenly dull depending on their weight. They color the sky uniformly, reducing it by several shades of dark grey. When photographing in this weather, remember to boost your exposure and leave the rest to post-production. The chance for rain is fairly high so I recommend you definitely have a wet weather backup plan!

“High Stratus Clouds” captured by Jack Boyle. (Click image to see more from Jack Boyle.)

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Finally there are the large, mushroom shaped clouds called cumulonimbus, which are very tall and dense. These epic clouds often produce lightning, so if you are very daring you may use this to your advantage by capturing a lightning shot in the background as you shoot the bride and groom!

“Thunderhead” captured by Nicholas A. Tonelli. (Click image to see more from Nicholas A. Tonelli.)

I hope this small survey has persuaded you that a good photographer is also a good meteorologist. Rather than despising the weather conditions on your wedding shoot, observe the weather patterns and use them to your advantage.

About the Author:
Dan Au Photography runs on love, vibrance, and personality. As a wedding photographer in sydney, they deliver story telling, candid moments, and imaginative concepts. And all with a fun-loving (and quirky!) heart.

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