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Shooting clouds

Clouds begin to break apart after an intense storm over Saginaw, Texas
Clouds begin to break apart after an intense storm over Saginaw, Texas
Kelly Christiansen

The sky fascinates us lowly humans who are stuck on the ground, unable to soar without mechanical help. Shooting clouds seems to be something that every amateur photographer needs to do, but frequently the shots come out looking like nothing more than blobs against a light blue background and expensive equipment doesn't do much to fix that.

The problem is related to a couple of things that are technical such as the amount of light, the angle of the light, the distance of the clouds - all things that can be corrected by the equipment the photographer is using. However there is one thing that amateurs struggle with that can't be corrected by the equipment - the mind's tendency to extrapolate.

When a person looks at something, the mind records all the data, not just the area directly in front of the eyes, and it adds an emotional reaction into the mix. The camera, however, records only what is seen through the lens, and adds no emotions.

What this means is that the photographer sees a fantastic sky, but is unable to record it the way they experience it:

The person looking at the sky sees the entire thing - a full half sphere from as far left as he or she can turn his or her head, as well as the sky that stretches up from the horizon to as far as he or she can look up. No one looks at a sky and doesn't also look around, and the mind stores all of that, adding it in even when the person is focusing on just one small area. The amateur photographer, unaware that this is going on, gasps at the beauty of the sky, grabs their camera, and starts taking snap shots. Then later finds themselves explaining to their friends just how pretty the sky really was while showing snap shots that didn't record what they experienced.

If the amateur happened to zoom out and take a wide angle, panoramic or semi-panoramic shot, then the photo might show everything, but everything is small and lacks the impact that standing under the sky provided Instead of being a breathtaking experience, that shot becomes a frustrating and even depressing shot.

To combat all these issues when shooting the sky, the amateur first needs to finish experiencing the view and get over the emotional experience, and then start looking for parts of the sky that will actually make good photos.

Once an area of the sky has been selected, identify the part that the viewer's eye should be drawn to and center that spot in the view finder. Then move the camera so that spot is either above the center in the top third, or below, in the bottom third. Next move the camera so that the spot is either to the left of the center or the right. Doing this will make the image far more dynamic and interesting to a viewer than leaving the main focal point in the center - a mistake most amateurs make with almost every photo.

Next, remember that you are shooting light - so either use the in camera light meter or use a hand held one. Adjust the camera - a lower amount of light allowed through the lens will result in a much richer picture. Cheap point and shoot cameras should have a sky setting - more expensive cameras come with a manual explaining how to set up for various lighting conditions.