I have been studying clouds quite a bit lately. Not only am I obsessed with getting a landscape shot with sharply focused clouds from front to back, but I am also learning how clouds help predict changes in weather, which is helpful in hang gliding. Apparently hang gliding pilots are the best weather (wo)men–at least the ones who survive.
Plus, I just like clouds. Who doesn’t really? There’s something fascinating about the way they swirl and swoosh and dissolve in front of our eyes.
When it comes to my photographic goals with clouds, I’ve come to several conclusions.
- A fast shutter speed freezes the movement caused by wind.
- A small aperture is essential for expansive clouds that range from front to back in the frame.
- Lower ISO settings prevent graininess that can make clouds look less sharp.
- All of the above makes it very difficult to get sharp looking clouds in low light.
- Finding a focus point about 1/3 of the depth keeps things sharp front to back.
- Even if you do everything perfectly, the clouds may not be sharp in real life.
Number 6 is my latest discovery in my endeavor to capture sharply focused clouds. Given that “cloudy” is used to mean “1. lacking definite form or limits” and blurred is considered a synonym for “cloudy,” this might have occurred to me sooner.
I find myself relieved to realize that my images are, in some cases, every bit as sharp as the clouds themselves were. I have been walking Tisen through the park gazing upwards, smiling at the blurry looking clouds. I try to pretend I’m bird watching so bystanders don’t think I’m crazy. I’m not sure it helps.
For today’s experiment, I tested this theory. I went up on the roof and got some shots of the sunset. I found an angle that had parts of a roof top in the very near foreground that angles away from the camera towards a ridge line in the mid-depth of the photo and then a second ridge further back. I figured this gives me landmarks so I can tell if I have depth of field even if the clouds appear blurry.
I also looked carefully at the clouds and determined that they hurt my eyes when I try to bring them into focus just with my eyes–especially the dark, large, foreground mist.
In post processing, I lifted the shadows beyond my personal preference in the first shot just to be able to see the sharpness of the focus better:
I look at the landmarks at each distance through the loupe in Aperture at 200%. They are acceptably sharp. Perhaps they could be sharper if I were shooting more towards the middle of the aperture range for my lens, but there is no discernible difference in the level of sharpness between the foreground and the background. This makes me happy.
I can now stop calling myself names for having cloudy looking clouds.
- Shooting the Breeze (nomadicmainstream.com)