July 19


When The Clouds Roll Over, Don’t Wait- Shoot Portraits

By Dan

July 19, 2011

As photographers, we’re so dependent on the sun and thus always so mindful of where it is and where it will be at any given moment. Especially on those bright sunny days when it’s strong, direct rays light up our subjects with the kind of brilliance that makes colors pop.

However, as much as we love the sun, we also love those really cool Simpsons style clouds that fill the sky with added interest and make the scene that much more interesting and dynamic than if we just had a field of solid blue in the background.

Of course, when you have clouds, you inherently have periods of time when the dun dips behind them. You know how it goes:

“Shoot…shoot…shoot… look over your shoulder and wait. Shoot…shoot…shoot… look over your shoulder and wait.


Don’t forget though, that slight overcast is perfect for closeups and portraits. Clouds are the worlds biggest softbox. When the they roll over the sun and take away your brilliant light, move in close and shoot a few portraits or detail shots that work better without the harsh shadows. Then, when the sun reappears, continue with your original creative ideas. Or better yet, explore new ones.

Being a successful outdoor photographer means being adaptable when the light or the situation changes. You can plan for a specific composition and have it all go out the window when the scene doesn’t unfold exactly as you hoped or thought it would. Look around. Be a photographic Jedi, be mindful of your surroundings and come up with a different idea based on the parameters of the new situation.

This entire series unfolded based on adaptation. We took off in the rain and just kept flying west until we found the sunshine. Then, after landing on this great little grass strip and shooting some photos of my friend Chet and his Maule M5 in the afternoon Alaska sun with the wide angle lens, one of those huge clouds rolled on over. I quickly changed to my 50mm f1.8D lens, ran up close and shot the photo at the bottom.

It’s nice and simple, it still has some compelling drama with the cloudy background, and there is no squinting, like there is in the second to last shot. It was all about thinking and acting quickly.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, when I explain how to get 200 horseflies out of your cockpit after you forget to close the door to your airplane.

About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

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Terry Bourk

I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.

Roger Sinclair

You have done it again! Another triumph.

Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

Thank you, Dan.