A lot of outdoor photographers often write off cloudy overcast days. On a cloudy day, the light tends to very flat and not particularly interesting or dramatic. There was a time when I rarely took out my camera on days like this. I’ve come to realise however that there are in fact certain types of photography that are very well suited to overcast conditions. The flat light of a cloudy sky can act as a giant soft box creating a soft even light that makes setting exposure easy and is perfect for a range of subjects.
Using the Even Light to Capturing Details
You can use these days to focus on details rather than vast sweeping landscapes. The even light makes it easier to capture small details in flowers and plants for example without worrying about harsh shadows obscuring part of the subject. The next two photographs were taken in gardens on an overcast day.
Street Photography on Overcast Days
Capturing detail at street level is another great option on a cloudy day. The even light makes setting the exposure easy. You set it once and you don’t really have to worry about it again unless the light changes dramatically. This leaves you free to concentrate on finding interesting street scenes to capture such as these two women sitting having a chat by a bridge in Venice.
Cloudy days create the perfect conditions for shooting environmental street portraits like this one of a violinist in Bucharest Old Town. The cloud filtered even light is better than any studio lighting!
Overcast days are great for capturing the details on building facades. The sky was not particularly interesting the day I took this next shot in Venice so I just left it out completely and concentrated on this rustic house facade in a tiny courtyard.
Streetscapes are actually much easier to capture in flat light. Take a look at the two photos on the next page. They were both taken in Temple Bar in Dublin. In the first one, the light was too strong leaving one side of the street in deep shadow. In the second one, the overcast light allowed me to capture all of the detail in the scene.
This version has plenty of exposure problems with clipped shadows and blown highlights.
The flat light allowed me to capture all the details in the scene in this version. There are no very deep shadows or overly bright areas. The light is quite even throughout the scene.
There is plenty of detail in all of the textures in this Venetian streetscape thanks to the even light.
Black and White Street Photography on Overcast Days
Black and white street photography is also a great option on overcast days. Take a look at these two examples from Dublin.
Not having to worry too much about exposure settings allowed me to concentrate on finding interesting scenes to photograph in the above photos. I quite enjoy the freedom of shooting without a tripod during the day and simply walking around a location looking for interesting photographic opportunities.
Wildlife Photography on Overcast Days
The flat light of a cloudy day is ideal for wildlife photography. Once again, the light on such days lights the scene very evenly, making it possible to capture plenty of detail. As with street photography, you can concentrate your efforts on your subject matter rather than fiddling with exposure settings.
I rarely photograph wildlife but I was lucky to be there when this herd of deer crossed the Phoenix Park in Dublin. One deer suddenly stopped and looked back, possibly remembering he’d forgotten to turn off the immersion that morning.
Minimalist Style Photography on Overcast Days
Featureless overcast skies are perfect for photographers who prefer a more minimalist feel to their images. The lack of detail in the sky above focuses the viewer on the street lamp and the church of San Giorgio in the distance. I’ve become increasingly interested in this more minimalist style photography recently. Most of my photos feature plenty of detail and bold colours. It’s nice to try something different every so often and move out of your comfort zone.
In the next tutorial, we will look at taking photographs from the evening to night time.
Improve your Photography Skills
The full collection of my photography tutorials covering exposure, camera settings, composition and light can be found in my Kindle e-book: Outdoor Photography Essentials. This e-book can be read on most Kindles or any tablet or smart phone with the Kindle app installed (€7.06 / $7.00 / £6.34).