Forgive me for the saucy title. I assure you it’s totally innocent and not something I pulled out of thin air (no cloud pun intended). If you’re a lover of photography who appreciates a beautiful cloud formation—and the art of social networking—you probably already knew that.
For those seeing the term cloudporn for the first time, let me explain. It’s one of countless hashtags people use on social networking sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hashtags provide a simple way to label what you share online, kind of like connecting your stuff to a worldwide index. Take a beautiful photograph of clouds, post it on your social networks, caption it with #cloudporn, and voila: People who dig really cool photographs of clouds can now find yours, by searching for anything hashtagged cloudporn.
So now that we’re clear on cloudporn, let’ talk about how you can create it—and why it’s so gratifying! Simply put, clouds are great for drama and versatility. They come in countless shapes and patterns. They can do well playing the lead or in a supporting role. They can make a blue sky seem bluer, and help give complexity to sweeping landscape compositions. And they inherently complicate the natural light available to your camera, which can actually be fun to play with. Unfortunately, that last bit also explains why clouds can be so darn difficult to photograph. If you want to create cloudporn, here are some tips to get you started:
- Exposure. Clouds have a wide range of brightness, so metering is a challenge. Don’t rely on your camera’s Live View to help. Work with the brightness histogram and good old-fashioned trial and error instead.
- Filtering. A polarizing filter can help make the sky appear darker and manage all the contrast to better show off the clouds’ outline and intricate details. Polarizers are best used when the sun is completely to your right or left. A graduated neutral-density filter can help you show off the radiance of the clouds without getting blown-out highlights. And a sky filter can help you offset unnatural blue in the scene, a common cloud-photography problem.
- Composition. Decide if the clouds are playing a leading role or a supporting role. If they’re the lead, have them occupy the top two-thirds of the frame, and certainly not less than half. If you want them to simply enhance a landscape scene, give them only one-third. Keep foreground elements to a minimum, or lose them altogether, especially if the clouds are your primary focus. Play around with landscape versus portrait orientation. (People often forget to try portrait orientation with clouds.)
- Cloud types. Big cotton-ball clouds better known as cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds tend to be the most popular choice for photographers. Bright and puffy, they can evoke feelings of happiness. Dark and stormy, they can bring the drama. These clouds are usually best photographed from some distance. Their bases will appear darker so that their visual effect of an exploding upward will be highlighted and appear more dramatic. Don’t dismiss all the other types of clouds! Wispy, cirrus clouds can make for a wonderfully textured backdrop but also can have delightful sweeping patterns that make them almost Zen-like—and worthy of that top two-thirds of your frame. Flat, hazy, and often grayish in color, stratus clouds can be difficult to capture as a subject. They are really best used in a supporting role.
- Break the rules. In art, there really is no such thing as unbreakable rules. If unnatural blueness adds interest to your photograph, forget that sky filter. If the sun and the clouds are playing beautifully together, go ahead and let the sky hog up the entire frame if you want. In other words, take the guidance but follow your instinct where the rubber hits the road!
Have your own cloud-photography tips to share? We’d love for you to share them with others here—and would love to see your cloudporn, too. (Post them here—hashtagged #cloudporn if you want to go the extra mile!)