Tutorial: Photography in Overcast Lighting

Photographing an outdoor shoot with an overcast sky can be a great challenge to even experienced photographers. Overcast days will come (even in Lancaster), and you must be prepared to make the best of them.

Today I will share with you some techniques to successfully shooting with an overcast sky.

Strong Backlighting


One of the problems with an overcast sky is that the light is uniform and flat. This can be used to great advantage if properly understood. You can use strong backlighting without worry of drawing the viewer’s attention to the background.

With this image, I used the strong uniform lighting to frame the subject and to act as a “spotlight” to emphasize the reflection in the pond. I used the foliage in the foreground and the soft lighting to capture a mysterious and dreamlike mood to the image. There are some strong natural lines in the foliage that act as convergence lines to point to the subject; you can’t help but see the mysterious figure!


The Softbox Effect


Overcast skies cast no shadows and distribute the light evenly across the objects we photograph. You can use this effect to your advantage by selecting a relatively small object and making use of the natural softbox effect to get natural, even lighting on your subject without resorting to flash.

This image shows the use of the softbox to cast even, smooth lighting on the array of leaves in the picture. To replicate the pleasing lighting just as I found it that day, I would have to transport and set up a studio’s worth of lights and softboxes, or use an array of expensive wireless flashes.

I used a large aperture to create a shallow depth of field, which added to the smooth pleasing lighting and also gave the image a distinct subject, the first leaf. The importance of the other leaves diminishes with the depth of field.


Shooting the Ground


Another technique for overcast days is to simply avoid pointing the camera upward! Many great compositions are missed by neglecting to look down at our feet.

This image is a diagonally-composed picture with a lot of movement and anticipation. The partially open door adds excitement and interest to what lies beyond. The power of this photograph is not what I captured, but rather what I left out. By leaving the viewer to wonder at what lies through the doorway, the image gains an elusive quality that could not be captured otherwise.

If I had been so preoccupied with the “poor” lighting conditions that I forgot to look down, I would have completely missed this great photograph!

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