All About Clouds

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Cloud Illustration: Valentin de Bruyn for Coton: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cloud_types#/media/File:Cloud_types_en.svg

This post relates to Episode 52 of my Latitude Photography Podcast. All the details and photos are found here. Enjoy!

Links Mentioned in today’s show:

Fine Art Cloud Photography link by Thomas Finkler.

Bag Review on YouTube:

Lensrentals.com affiliate link:

ThinkTankPhoto affiliate link:

My Online Course:

Coton Cloud App:

Topic: 

Clouds, possibly a strange topic, but let’s face it. When I’m shooting images that include the sky, or anything significant that’s sky related, I usually like some good clouds to add interest. Of course, there’s some types of clouds that totally get socked in and that just stinks when you want that overview, the vista or what-not. When that happens I know I have to shift my expectations and what I’m looking for in order to get good images.

In case you’re looking for inspiration I did a quick search for Fine Art Cloud Photography and one of the first results was that of Thomas Finkler. The link is at the top of the show notes.

Let’s discuss some of the more common types of clouds then we’ll look at a few images and how I’ve used clouds in my photography.

Using the diagram available on Wikipedia by Valentin de Bruyn for Coton, which publishes the cloud app which costs $2 US, I’m going to briefly describe the different types of clouds. The cloud app, which is just cloudapp.com has 25 different entries. We won’t get in to all of them, but we’ll address the main ones.

Nimbostratus

These clouds are the thick very overcast type of cloud. They can produce rain, but the main characteristic is that it’s close to the ground and it’s so thick you can’t make out the sun at all. Around here in SE Washington State we get this type of cloud all the time in the winter. Probably half the month of January and ¾ of February are just socked in with fog. We don’t usually get rain, sometimes snow, but you can absolutely count on the dreary nature of the light. This is the time of year that requires I pop a few vitamin D pills to keep up with a proper outlook on life.

The first two images to talk about are from Martin Field, here in the Walla Walla area, and an abandoned truck in the snow up north of Dayton, WA. We don’t really see the clouds per se in this image, but we certainly see the effects of the clouds.

Stratus

This next image is the best example I could find of a stratus cloud. It’s described as a low lying cloud, often referred to simply as fog, but the sun can poke through a bit with these clouds. Where the Nimbostratus doesn’t allow the sun to poke through. This image is from Montana, near Yellowstone National Park. The sun is sort of popping through and I think it looks kinda cool like this. 

Bozeman, MT. An old barn sits quietly in a field amongst the freshly fallen snow as the sun attempts to peek through the clouds.

Altostratus

I suppose these previous images could be Altostratus. The difference between stratus and altostratus is that the altostratus is a higher cloud. They reside in the mid-level, not close to the ground. Though they are both considered thin enough to have the sun pop through yet shadows aren’t cast by other subjects, so it’s still very strongly diffused light.

Smoke

This next image may not be in this category of clouds, but the sun is popping through so I figured I’d include it here. It’s from a flight I took with one of my colleagues at the school and we went to a wind farm just south of us over the border in Oregon. The weather was affected by the wildfires burning and I couldn’t resist including it even though it’s not really a cloud causing the awesome color. A cloud of smoke, perhaps.

USA, Washington, Walla Walla County. Windmills in the SW corner of the county. Stateline Wind Project.

Cirrus

As best I can tell, these next four images are cirrus clouds. Cirrus are characterized by being very high level, greater than 6,000 ft up, and they are thin and wispy. They can catch the light really well at sunset and really set a good backdrop for lower level clouds that may not be getting the light. 

This first image comes to us from the Palouse region during winter. I just had an idea, I should host a “frozen Palouse” workshop, too bad I’m going to Unalaska Island during my winter break… That would be so awesome though, maybe I should say it’d be cool, pun intented!

OK, on with it, I’m laying really low for this shot. I’m using the Canon 11-24 at 11mm and the aperture is set to 8, so there’s a good amount of depth-of-field. I love how the little drift is blown over the edge. This thing is rather small and I was going along the edge until I found something interesting.

The next image of “The Tree” is also from the Palouse, but this one is summer time. The same type of clouds are present but with the sunset going the color is oh so much better. I’ve got a YouTube video on how this one was put together if you’re interested.

The final two images for Cirrus are from a place called Twin Sisters Monument in the SW corner of the county. The first image is 105 seconds, so I’ve got an ND filter on it. The second image is actually kind of a mix of cirrus and cirrocumulus it seems.

Cirrocumulus

It seems These clouds are rare, but they’re characterized by having properties of both cumulus clouds and cirrus clouds. I just loved how this image came together in B&W so I made a big canvas out of it.

Stratocumulus

Characterized as being varied in its moisture density, these clouds are mid-level to low-level and can have some characteristics of the cumulus (puffy or fluffy) but also have some stretched out characteristics as well.

My first image that I’m putting in this category comes from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I caught the last light at sunset. We were camping there and this one is from really close to our campsite if I remember right. 

The next image comes from the Palouse region. This one looks more like a mix of cirrus and cumulus, so I put it in the stratocumulus collection. 

US, WA, Palouse Falls State Park. Sunset colors with foreground grasses.

The final image has the clouds in the background out of focus. I’m focusing on the foreground grasses. This comes from Palouse Falls State Park. The light wasn’t so great on the falls, or above the falls, but it was great looking directly west, so I framed up a few shots and went with it. This might actually belong in the cumulus section, but it seems it’s a bit varied so I put it here.

Cumulus

Quite possibly the most known type of cloud, the cumulus is characterized by the puffy white clouds we all know and love. They might produce rain but when they are scattered they can create a cool pattern. They are different from altocumulus and cirrocumulus in that those types of clouds are mid-level and upper-level types respectively. Cumulus clouds are lower level, maybe 6,500 ft or less. 

The first picture in this set is from Agate Fossil Beds National Monument area which is in Nebraska. Thank you GPS unit on my Canon 5d4 for helping me with my faded memory on that one.

The next image comes from Grand Tetons National Park. This seems a mix of cumulus and altostratus given the very diffuse nature of the light. But I do see some puffiness in there.

The next image comes from Dubrovnik, Croatia. The clouds are picking up just enough light to make the image interesting. I love how it’s reflecting on the water too and how the boats are breaking up that reflection. 

The final image in this set is from the Palouse region once again. This is a panoramic multi-frame shot and I would say this is perfect cumulus clouds, couldn’t be more quintessential.

Cumulonimbus

This final set of clouds I want to talk about are the big boomers. These are the ones that create rain and thunder and lightning. I love going out to shoot in the stormy weather. Did I mention I’m heading to Unalaska Island in December. When I called up there to speak with the people at the visitor bureau I asked about the weather in mid-December. The gal simply replied, “It’s the beginning of the weirdest weather I’ve ever seen.” She’s from Texas, I didn’t get in to why or how a young woman from Texas finds herself in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, but anyway, I know they have some good weather down there too and when she said that I was getting excited.

Back to these images…

They were both shot the same evening, just moments apart. The first image is zoomed back and it gives you a bit of the environment. I was on one side of the snake river, less than ½ mile from where it empties into the Columbia River. Across the way there was a series of silos and grain elevators. I used that as a framing element for the foreground and let the lightning do its thing. The lightning was just illuminating the clouds from the inside, so I changed my framing a bit and got this shot.

I really love the textures coming through and the different forms and shapes being made here.  

Bonus images

I’m going to end with two encore images. The first is from Twin Sisters again. I’m going to call these cirrus clouds, though they are rather sparse and thin, they appear high up and they seem to have the characteristics of cirrus. I appreciate the balance I have here in the main subject, then the clouds come in and break up the scene.

The last image is from Devil’s Tower again. If you look closely you’ll see some stratus clouds very thinly on the lower section around the tower. I call them stratus due to their lower altitude and their thin dispersed nature. My point in showing this image is to highlight that sometimes the clouds are our enemies JSometimes we just want a cloudless night sky so we can see the beautiful cloudiness that is the Milky Way.

Palouse Announcement

I then ended the show by talking about the Urban Access 15 by ThinkTank Photo. It’s a great bag that I can’t wait to use more. The little I have used it, it’s been great.

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