Clouds or Sun? & Other Stuff

I have often sang the praises of creating landscape images under overcast skies. While I think every nature photographer knows that the magic hours of sunrise/sunset under clear skies can be a great time for image making, I notice few landscapes being created under cloudy skies. I am pleased with the fact that a article I wrote and illustrated for this blog several years ago about cloudy day landscapes, is one of the most read at Earth Images.

The premise was and still is, that soft, overcast, low contrast light allows the colors to saturate. by negating reflecting light. In most circumstances it is prudent to keep the sky out of the picture. Most overcast skies will render as a dull gray featureless rectangle at the top of your picture. Compose the image under those conditions without the sky. With all that said, stormy skies, or cloudy skies with an “uneven” cloud cover (dark and light spots no more than two stops of light apart) can make a cloudy day landscape into a powerful scene.

Many photographers will photograph landscapes on a sunny day no matter how contrasty the scene, and how washed out the highlights. So the lesson is, shoot only sunrise/sunset landscapes, or cloudy day scapes, without any sky showing, or with storm clouds. Right? Well, no, there are times when sunny day late morning or early afternoon landscapes can work. They can actually pop.

First off, depending on where you are in the world, during winter even the mid day sun is low in the horizon, and therefore much like the early and late hours in summer. Secondly, if you have the opportunity to play warm (advancing) colors against cool (receding) colors, that landscape will pop depending what the angle the sun is to the land..

The colors were not artificially saturated in either of these images.

The colors in The Badlands are beautiful but somewhat understated compared to the red rock parks of the southwest. That understatement instead becomes an exclamation point under cloudy skies. Notice I left those skies in my comp for this picture because they were interesting and had layers of light and dark.


It is possible to get rich saturated colors under late morning/early afternoon sunny skies. The image below was made at Dinosaur National Monument, one of the most ignored western locations by landscape photographers. This picture was made in summer and late in the morning. One reason for the color saturation is the play of warm and cool tones between the rock, and the sky. This adds dimension to the picture and that three dimensional feeling, with one color advancing and the other receding, gives one the feeling of saturated colors. Notice that this image is not front lit (flat, boring) or back lit, where there would be too much shadow. The light is to the side and to the back. There is just enough shadow to give texture to the rock.

ANatW2Ref 135And2more

So we see that both sunlight and overcast can both produce saturated colors, but the quality or style of the coloration is very different. Both are very rewarding.


One of the benefits of living a few years, is gaining the ability to use those years to learn from. One thing I’ve learned over time, is that one of the most useful lessons in life, is coming to the understanding of how much better that life is, when I exercise personal discipline.

It sounds stodgy I know. The sort of thing only an old person or maybe a Marine would care about. I have found it to be one of the most freeing qualities to possess….ever!

I cherish freedom and there is nothing that sets us free from our weaknesses, addictions, and impatience, like having the discipline to “just say no” to those flaws. Today if I really have a craving for maybe some pizza, I will deny myself that craving and have something else. I might have pizza the next day or the day after that when that weak and selfish little man inside of me isn’t saying to me, “ah come on, it’s just a pizza, satisfy that urge right now, don’t wait another minute”. I love laughing in the face of the little man inside of me. When I can do that, I am truly free.

The ability to deny oneself makes the things we grant ourselves, all the sweeter. It also is the one way to stop making decisions that we pay for later. Remember what Einstein said and I paraphrase, “the first sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the results to be different“. Great things come with discipline and denial. Regrets come from accepting our impulses and seeking everything we want right now. We live in a spoiled world and it shows in everything from our work to our politics.

As with everything else I tackle, self-discipline or denying oneself doesn’t come any easier to me than for anybody else. I have to keep reminding myself that freedom most often comes from the inside rather that from the outside.


Jess Lee is a professional outdoor photographer who I assume (always dangerous) makes his living primarily out of photography workshops like most others do.

The world of outdoor/nature photography is the epitome of political correctness. Many in or around this field represent the “far left”. It is true that many who are simply enthusiasts (non-pros) might not hold those views, but from within the professional community, it is a taken for granted you should be left of center on every issue. When a photographer from that world is willing to show him/herself to be right of center…..well it is almost unheard of. Thanks to Jess for sticking to what he knows to be right, and letting everyone know what that is. The post below is humorous but also serious.

“Some days you just have to shake your head and smile!

It seems that lately my life has been getting more complicated, and I want to thank those of you who are brave enough to still associate with me regardless of what I have become. The following is a recap of my current identity:

I was born a white male, which makes me a racist.

I am a fiscal and moral conservative, which makes me a fascist.

I am heterosexual, which makes me a homophobe.

I am non-union, which makes me a traitor to the working class and an ally of big business.

I am a Christian, which makes me an infidel.

I think and I reason; therefore I doubt much that the main stream media tells me, which makes me a reactionary.

I am proud of my heritage and our inclusive American culture, which makes me a xenophobe.

I value my safety and that of my family; therefore I appreciate the police and the legal system, which makes me a right-wing extremist.

I believe in hard work, fair play, and fair compensation according to each individual’s merits, which makes me anti-socialist.

I acquired a good education without student loans and no debt at graduation, which makes me some kind of odd underachiever.

I believe in the defense and protection of the homeland by all citizens, which makes me a militarist.

Please help me come to terms with this, because I‘m not sure who I am anymore!

Newest problem – I’m not sure which bathroom I should use.”

Perfectly written Jess, thank you.

Have a great day, Wayne




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