“It’s kind of a gray day”…. So go outside and shoot!!

By Ken Brown

Have you ever heard, or maybe you’ve heard yourself say – “Well it’s kind of gray outside, so it probably won’t be a great day to shoot”.  Please do not let overcast weather stop you!!  On the contrary, you can sometimes catch amazing scenes that would otherwise be impossible in bright, sunny conditions.

I’d like to share two different examples from our recent Arizona Highways Photoscapes workshop in Alaska.

First is our shoot at an area along Turnagain Arm, a waterway flowing to the Northwestern region of the Gulf of Alaska. It has the largest tidal surge in the U.S., and the second largest in the world at almost 40 feet.  With a heavily overcast sky, the landscape is boldly dichromatic.  Just perfect. A bright blue sky would turn this into a completely different image.  I have nothing against blue sky and color.  But I love the moodiness and drama of the lighting for this particular scene.  I think it conveys a sense of the wilderness that is Alaska.

In the second example, we were shooting along a fast-moving river filled with rocks and small falls.  This was a perfect spot to slap on a Neutral Density filter and achieve some motion blur for the water.  One challenge in a spot like this is the sun.  If it’s too bright outside, the light becomes too reflective off the water and the rocks, and the dynamic range of the exposure becomes very challenged. A nice overcast sky can really help a lot, and completely knock out the bright reflected light that would otherwise dominate (i.e. ruin) the image.  On this particular day, there was a partially cloudy sky, so sometimes the sun would shine and sometimes it would get nice and overcast.  Here is where it takes some patience – wait for the lighting that works for the scene.  It was also an excellent opportunity to show the different resulting images side by side to illustrate how an overcast sky can really work for you, not against you.

With the sun shining
Once it got nice and overcast

I’m shooting with the camera on Manual here, and the only difference between these two images is the brighter sunshine in the first one, with the resulting reflective highlights, and the loss of details.  The midtones are roughly the same, and although it’s kind of subtle, even the green leaves are a bit too reflective in the “sunny” image.  The green takes on a nicer, deeper, richer tone, in the overcast scene.  Once the bright sun is gone, the reflective surfaces of the water, rocks, and leaves become a non-issue, and we’re ready to capture this scene!

So please don’t be scared away by an overcast sky.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Ken Brown is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes