Tips for Shooting on an Overcast Day.
Living here in the Pacific Northwest I have learned to embrace the overcast skies! It seems like when it comes to my shoot days I have a 50% chance of golden hour and 50% chance of an overcast sky here in Spokane, Washington, and I don’t always know until the day of what I’ll be working with. Now, I love some rich golden tones and stunning backlighting on a sunshiney evening, but you don’t get to pick your weather. Here are some ways I’ve learned to embrace the clouds- and love the results just as much as a clear day!
Clouds are your Softbox.
You know, those big box lights that are used for studio photography? Those are called softboxes. Treat that cloud coverage like a softbox. They are used to diffuse and spread out the light, so you get that nice spread out lighting on your subject rather than a direct beam that causes awful hot spots and shadows. Clouds are your diffuser and the sun is your giant studio light.
Direction of Light.
The direction of your light source still matters! When I first was shooting, I thought I could shoot midday on an overcast day and get the same results as if I shot towards sunset on a cloudy day- and my subjects would end up with weird dark shadows under their eyes and unflattering light that I had to spend time trying to fix in post. The sun is still a strong light source and can cause unflattering light and shadows to fall on the face when directly above, even if hidden behind clouds. There are ways around this such as a reflector, but you don’t always have an assistant with you to hold one. Even on overcast days, I opt for shooting right after the sun rises or right before it sets, and I still use backlighting by placing where the sun is in the sky behind my subjects.
Because overcast clouds are like a blanket up there in the sky, think of them as a layer, a lot of time you will get an incredible sunrise or sunset that peaks through right between that cloud layer and the horizon, just before the sun goes down. A big bonus is the texture you get in your sky from the cloud layer and the beautiful colors that are reflected off the clouds. I have seen some of the BEST sunsets on cloudy days! If your shoot day comes and you have an overcast sky, remember that there’s a good chance you might see the sun if you shoot at the right time, and sometimes you don’t, in which case you’ll also be alright when you follow the advice above! Even if the sun doesn’t come through (literally) to give you a golden hour that day, shooting during that time will give you more depth, texture, and better tones than shooting midday on an overcast day.
The above images were shot within MINUTES of each other, in fact, it was the end of our session and we were about to hop in our cars to take off, and boom, this beam of golden light burst out under the clouds just before the sun was going over the horizon. Oakley, their little girl was over taking photos and I’m pretty sure she was already buckled into her carseat but I said “let’s just take a couple more real quick” and I am so glad they agreed! We walked up to the edge of the parking lot and this is where we captured my favorite images from this session. You won’t always be this lucky, but it happens more than you’d think!
Once you understand lighting you can experiment with it and get around some of the obstacles that come with different types of lighting. I hope these tips help you master shooting on an overcast day! Don’t be afraid to try different things to find your style too, some people’s style is greatly influenced by the lighting they prefer!