preview of dramatic cloudy day
Harry Guinness

While normal people love sunny days with bright blue skies, most photographers prefer cloudy or overcast days—at least if they’re planning to shoot some pictures. Let’s explore why.

Light is the most important element in any photograph. It’s what gives shape to everything in the image. And unless you work exclusively in a studio with powerful flashes that you completely control, you’re normally at the mercy of whatever the sun and weather are doing. If the light is super dramatic and awesome, it can seem like it’s impossible to take a bad picture. But if the light is drab and uninteresting, even the most awe-inspiring scene can look mundane.

An abandoned shack in an overgrown field
This photo is fine, but a more interesting sky would add a lot to it. Harry Guinness

The best light, though, doesn’t necessarily mean the most light. A bright sun is hard to work with and can easily overpower your images. So, whether you’re capturing portraits, landscapes, sports photos, or nature shots, let’s take a look at some of the reasons that cloudy days are so great for taking photos.

Cloudy Days Have Softer, Nicer Light

cloudy portrait
Cloudy days are great for portraits. Harry Guinness

While direct sunlight is great for sunbathing, it’s hard to work with for photography. The biggest problem is that it casts harsh shadows that, while dramatic, don’t make people look that good. If you’re not careful, you can get unintended lens flares, too.

Also, most digital cameras don’t have the dynamic range to capture all the details in both the shadows and the highlights at the same time. This means that your photo will either be overexposed or underexposed—and you can’t even fix things in an image editor afterward. You can sometimes resort to techniques like High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, but they come with their own additional issues.

cloudy portrait
The soft light is flattering and easy to work with. Harry Guinness

Cloudy days, on the other hand, have much easier light to work with. The sun’s light is diffused by the clouds, so the entire sky turns into a big, soft light source. This means that you get much more even lighting that casts softer shadows. It’s much more forgiving to photograph with and is especially flattering for portraits.

Cloudy Skies Are More Interesting

dramatic skies
The clouds aren’t anything special here, but they still add drama. Harry Guinness

While direct sunlight casts dramatic shadows, blue skies are just—blue skies. They all kind of look the same, and there just isn’t a lot going on.

Cloudy skies, though, can be a subject in and of themselves. A few big streaks of white cloud can lend a sense of motion to your photos.

Dark, heavy gray clouds make everything moody, tense, and dramatic.

cloudy landscape
Again, the clouds add a lot to this landscape. Harry Guinness

Even fairly normal-looking clouds can just liven up an otherwise empty sky.

Cloudy Days Can Be More Consistent from Photo to Photo

cloudy skies landscape
Harry Guinness

Natural light is constantly changing. It can shift a huge amount in the time that it takes you to shoot a handful of images.

With cloudy days, these changes tend to be less chaotic, with things just getting a little bit brighter or darker. You might need to tweak your exposure settings, but you’re unlikely to have to mix things up drastically.

However, on sunny days, the changes are constant. Even where you’re standing relative to your subject affects how the light appears. If you move a few feet to the left or right, it can completely change the angle of it, and thus, alter the photo. Also, it isn’t just the light levels that shift. If the sun drops behind a cloud for a few moments or you step into a shadow, the temperature or color of the light will change so that every image might need to be processed individually.

But It Always Depends

Of course, we’re speaking generally here. It’s possible to shoot incredible images on bright, sunny days—especially around sunrise or sunset. It’s just that cloudy days—in particular, for people who are just learning photography—are more forgiving and easier to get great photos with.

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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