If there is a type of photography that has always appealed to me, it is the long exposures on which the photos of moving clouds draw beautiful silky traces in the sky. On the surface, they seem easy to achieve, but the reality is quite different. Indeed, there are a myriad of factors that affect the shot and it is important to take them into account if we want to obtain satisfactory results. In this article, I’ll go over a few of these factors and give you some tips for making your photos look great.
1. Consider weather conditions
For those who have been following me for years, you should know that I am from Huelva, a Spanish province in the south of the country, which is very often sunny. This coast, called the Costa de la Luz (the Coast of Light) offers a magnificent light.
Despite all my explanations, if there are no clouds, it will be very difficult to take photos of moving clouds. It is for this reason that the weather conditions are very important.
A day of shining sunshine, where obviously there will be no clouds, will not interest us, nor will a day of bad weather, because we will not notice the movement of the clouds.
The ideal is to have a cloudy sky where several superimposed layers are formed, with different shades of black.
With this type of sky we will obtain much more apparent traces where the light and dark colors of the sky will be highlighted. In addition, these layers, moving at different speeds, will offer luminous trails of distinct lengths.
Another important concern is the wind which moves the clouds.
As beautiful as our sky is, if the clouds are not moving or moving very slowly, we won’t be able to get photos of moving clouds.
Thus, it is essential that there is more than a slight breeze to succeed in beautiful photos of moving clouds. On the contrary, if there are strong gusts of wind, we run the risk of endangering all of our equipment, especially if our tripod does not meet the minimum stability conditions. But we will talk about it in another article on tripods.
The ideal would be a sufficiently intense wind for the clouds to move at a certain speed.
Location is a determining factor
Depending on where we are, certain times of the year will be better than others for taking photos of moving clouds. But, in my own experience, it’s when you least expect it that pretty clouds appear in the sky and move slowly, making for interesting photos.
However, we have to be on the lookout if we like these types of photos. A quick look at the weather will allow us to anticipate these situations to schedule a photo shoot. You can also consult specialized websites such as Wind Guru, which is for coastal areas.
2. Find the best time of day
In general, the time of day is fundamental to any landscape photo, but if you’re shooting long exposures, this tip is even more important.
If we pay attention to the light quantity factors, we will have to plan for the use of ND filters. But other criteria must be taken into account to take photos of moving clouds.
Sunrises and sunsets
Of course, quality takes precedence over quantity. We already know that at sunrise and sunset the light is the most interesting. The color palette increases tenfold, we obtain photos with much more impact.
If we go back to the photos of moving clouds, during sunrises and sunsets, it is not uncommon for cumulus clouds to form, which are pushed by air currents, produced by the different temperatures. between the upper and lower atmospheric layers as well as those of the Earth’s surface.
Thus, in addition to having a better light, we have even more chance of taking photos of moving clouds. But sometimes the cloud movement is less and we don’t get the desired effect.
My other favorite photos are night, milky way and starry sky photos.
More than once I’ve gone out to take night shots and come back with shots of moving clouds against the backdrop of night skies.
We must be optimistic, and not go away if we see clouds that will spoil our night photo session. By slightly changing the configuration of our camera and lens, we can get beautiful pictures of moving clouds, even at night.
So, for example, we can increase the exposure time beyond the “500 rule”, since we want above all that it is the clouds that leave our luminous trails in the night sky, and not the stars.
In addition, unlike starry skies, we can use light pollution to provide light and color to the clouds, which will generate beautiful light traces.
3. Give importance to the setting
Initially, we think that this point is easy and that it is only necessary to frame towards the sky in order to take photos of moving clouds. However, we can establish three basic types of frame: the first we could define as “horizontal”, the second as “perpendicular” and between the two we can speak of a “diagonal” or “oblique” frame.
The horizontal frame
In this type of frame, the clouds move parallel to the horizon of our shot, that is, parallel to the plane of our sensor. We will get longer light wakes as the cloud movement will be faster, or at least they will seem so to us.
The luminous wakes will leave pretty clouds parallel to the horizon but, on the other hand, we will lose depth of field.
Regarding the “perpendicular” frame, the clouds move perpendicular to the horizon, that is to say parallel to the axis of our objective.
On this occasion, we will have the movement of the clouds longer on the plane of our photo. This will give us the impression that the clouds are moving slowly and that the wakes will be shorter.
The light trails will have a conical shaped path with its corresponding vanishing points, while with the “horizontal” frame we will gain depth of field in the image, a very important point in our compositions.
Diagonal or oblique frame
Between one frame and the other we can have a type of diagonal that, depending on the angle with respect to the horizon, approaches one type or the other, offering advantages and disadvantages.
In addition to this factor dedicated to the frame, it is important to take into account the composition.
4. Don’t forget the creative part
Often we strive to learn the photo technique as much as possible, but we forget the creative or artistic part. I recognize that I still have a lot to learn, but little by little I try to be more attentive to the aspects of the composition which reinforce my photos by giving them more impact.
Don’t limit your long exposures
Regarding photos of moving clouds, I advise you not to limit yourself to just looking up, but to add as much sky as possible in your frame.
I think it’s very interesting to be able to achieve a composition that balances the weights between “heaven” and “earth”. As I explained to you in the article on photography with wide angles, we need important elements in the foreground of our photographs to obtain good composition results.
Other Composition Tips
It is interesting to integrate some typical elements of composition in our photos of moving clouds so that they gain visibility. Trees, towers, buildings, etc.