How to Use Overcast Skies to Your Advantage

We’re in the throes of winter which means lots of overcast, gray skies. It can make for some serious lack of motivation but it might be a new way to push yourself photographically. Sure, it’s easy to get excited by great light and get great photos when you have sunshine, but the softbox type of light created by overcast skies has at least a few positives.

First, it can make for great negative space. Cloud-free and blown out you can use that whiteout sky as a resting place for your eyes and a way to let the edges of the architecture shine.

chrysler building, art deco

Curvy or geometric…

Overcast skies also act like a giant softbox creating this even light that feels very soothing. Notice the difference in these two similar shots of Heart Tower in NYC. The first has a muted, even tonality, which just feels calming. While the second shot, made in sunlight, has more variation in tones and reflections. Perhaps feeling a bit more lively. Both work, but it goes to show you it’s all about mood as each shot conveys different things. A reminder to explore your subject under different lighting and consider what you want to say with your images.

Next, are two shots of the US Embassy in London. When I first arrived it was very gray and overcast. Again, resulting in a very evenly light, muted tonality to the subject. Just as I was about to leave the sun peaked out. So glad it did because it’s an interesting study to see how different a building can look under various lighting conditions. In this instance, the transparency of the fins is much more evident with the sun. However, again, both work, they just convey different moods and elements of the design.

Speaking of mood, blowing out that gray sky and making it full white while increasing the contrast and blacks of your subject can make for some great graphic shots.

So, take the opportunity to push yourself creatively and find those subjects that can benefit from this type of lighting. Or, revisit one of your favorite subjects and see if you can come away with a new perspective. You might surprise yourself!



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