Photographers: are you struggling with cloudy day portrait photography? After living in Oregon, which has more cloudy days than I actually thought possible before moving here, I’ve learned how to still create light, airy photos on overcast days. The good news is: you CAN get light and airy photos in overcast lighting when you follow these tips!
Cloudy Portrait Photography Tips
Choosing a Location on an Overcast Day
Look for a wide open space with the ability to put something behind your client’s heads that isn’t flat grey sky! I love using the mountains or a tree line for this. If you’re truly in a wide open, flat field, don’t forget that you can use creative posing and cropping to keep a boring overcast sky from taking up too much of your frame. Have your clients sit down and shoot from slightly above them, photograph children against their parent’s clothing, or crop in tightly.
Have Your Client Face the Brightest Part of the Sky
Although I adore backlighting my subjects, on overcast day I do the complete opposite! To avoid the dark shadows under eyes that can happen when you face away from the sun on overcast days, instead face the brightest part of the sky or wherever the sun WOULD be.
Camera Settings for Cloudy Day Portrait Photography
Because I’m always using the exposure triangle to shoot my photos in full manual mode, my settings change from photo to photo depending on my goals for that image. Therefore, it’s so hard to give exact camera settings for cloudy day portrait photography. Your goals for the final photo might be different from mine! That said, there are two camera settings I give special thought to on a cloudy day: ISO and white balance.
ISO for Cloudy Day
Since a cloudy or overcast day is generally darker than a sunny day, I want to be sure to carefully expose my photo so that it isn’t too dark. If I do that using the shutter speed, I might end up having to make the shutter speed too slow and create blur from camera shake. Instead, I rely on bumping my ISO to create a photo that isn’t too dark, even on dark, overcast days. Generally, that means my ISO might be anywhere from 400 to 1200. As long as I’ve exposed the photo properly so that it doesn’t need too much brightening in Lightroom, the grain is negligible at this ISO range.
White Balance for Cloudy Day Portrait Photography
When the sun filters through heavy clouds, it can often mean the temperature of the light is much cooler. Your photos might look more blue than usual. I shoot using Kelvin white balance so that I am in control of the white balance of my photos, not the camera’s automated sensor. On cloudy days, my white balance is usually set to Kelvin 5900-6200, depending on the setting and conditions.
How to Edit Cloudy Day Photos
I edit cloudy day photos about the same way that I edit the rest of my photos. My goal is always to get a light, soft, warm edit. With photos taken on an overcast day, I’m often softening the contrast and lightening any shadows to get the photo to light, soft, and warm. My “how to edit light and airy tutorial” goes into my three key tips to editing light and airy photos, and those are all tips I’d use for photos taken on overcast or cloudy days.
Okay, But What if the Forecast Calls for Rain?
I never cancel a session because of overcast skies, since clients can still have a comfortable, fun experience on overcast days AND it’s easy to create images that are in line with the soft, warm, light photos in my portfolio. On rainy days, sometimes neither of those things are possible. Read more about how I handle rainy days here: What Happens if it Rains?
I hope this post was helpful for you in your journey to master cloudy day portrait photography!