Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Clouds

“Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.” – “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

The latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is clouds. With the drought over the past several years something that was in short supply were not the rains but the clouds that went with them as well. This fall/winter we’ve received more of both than we have in the recent past so, hopefully, the opportunity for clouds will present itself.

Clouds can add some visual interest and drama to an otherwise featureless sky. They can absorb color of a sunrise or sunset and make the scene appear much more vibrant.

A cloudy sky can make a landscape, seascape or even city scene much more interesting and can even be an important part of the composition.

A partly cloudy day is the best to shoot under. A solid grey and overcast sky can be just as bland as one without any clouds at all. From ones like puffy cotton balls to high altitude streaks, clouds come in all shapes and sizes.

Don’t let inclement weather stop you. Sometimes stormy weather can produce some great cloud photos. I remember when I was a photo student on a field trip during wintertime in Yosemite. I was shooting El Capitan from the valley floor and The clouds swirled about on a stormy day and changed from minute to minute. I got several different looking photos from the same spot in a matter of moments.

Photos of clouds in and of themselves can be a bit boring. Try to include something, mountains, trees, buildings, perhaps even people, in the foreground. Make the clouds a part of an entire scene rather than by themselves.

The sky is much brighter than the scene on the ground even on a cloudy day. If you expose for the sky, then whatever in in the foreground will be underexposed which can cause them to be silhouetted (which can be fine if that’s what you’re going for). If you expose for what’s on the ground then the sky will be washed out and overexposed causing a loss of detail in the sky.

If you want detail in a portrait with a cloudy sky as a background, fill-flash (using the flash during the day) will help fill-in the shadows. A landscape can benefit from a graduated filter. A graduated filter is one where that’s a neutral density at the top which gradually fades to clear at the bottom. Using it reduces the exposure of the sky portion of the scene while retaining a normal exposure on the land part.

A weather-dependent assignment is always a tricky one. What if there are nothing but sunny days between now and the deadline in two weeks? But it is the season for storms and a El Niño weather pattern is predicted as well. So hopefully, it will be a good time to keep your head in the clouds.


How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Clouds” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Jan. 7 and Jan. 21. They can be of any subject but must include clouds. P

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos.

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, January 21. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Jan. 28 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.


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