Understanding the Clouds – Predicting the Light !

Before I go any further I have to give massive credit for my understanding of clouds to my good friend and colleague Thorarinn Jonson, AKA “The Mighty Thor’ from Thor Photography. Traveling, working, and even shock horror, sipping a nice cool beer together after a long day shooting and guiding, The Mighty Thor and I have ample opportunity to debate our next move, the clouds, the wind, the possibility for good light here or there. That’s the core question really. The light, here or there, when, what’s the damn plan, well we’re going to need at least one more beer to figure this one out.

And so it went, and so it goes. We talk about clouds, where they are likely to be, and how they might impact on the light. It’s a massive part of your job as a workshop leader and I’d like to think the whole IrishLight and ExploreLight crew make great decisions on all matters cloud related.

While I’d love to suggest you only ever take out your camera on an ExploreLight or IrishLight workshop (it might be good for business), there may be the odd occasion where you want to go shoot on your own, so let’s talk clouds.

High/Middle/Low Clouds

Clouds don’t just fall into one digestible bracket. What I tend to focus on is cloud level. High, Middle and Low.

Not all websites will give you detailed information on cloud levels but www.yr.no is a fantastic resource for all things clouds. The Icelandic site http://en.vedur.is/  is even better but Iceland specific. I don’t normally fill out web surveys, but I did send a detailed message to Met Eireann about my hopes and aspirations for their new site. Alas, my pleas fell on deaf ears, and the new site is a poor upgrade for people seriously interested in weather.

So Irish photographers country wide need to rely on the Norwegians. Have a quick look at the video below and you will see how to find the detailed forecast that you need to improve your chances of being in the right places at the right time.

So What to Look For?

As a general guide, I tend to look for an absence of low clouds. 15% or lower and a reasonably high percentage of medium and high cloud at sunrise or sunset. Unfortunately, yr.no or MET Eireann for that matter, don’t tell you the position of these clouds geographically, but it is possible to infer position by looking at wind direction, where the clearances or densities are before or after sunrise or sunset. So for example, if your shooting the east of Ireland and it’s clear all night, with a westerly wind, and it is clouding up at sunrise, the likelihood is the clear weather will be in the east where the sun is rising and you will have cloud overhead. This creates the possibility of the early morning light getting underneath the clouds. That’s where the fireworks go off. Have a look below.

There is a low percentage of low clouds, high percentage of middle, and a high percentage of high. Great chance of dramatic orange colours in the sky and wild light. 

The best light can often be just as the rain passes. A familiar icon in Poolbeg lit between showers. Salty:)

There’s an absence of low clouds and middle clouds but a higher percentage of high clouds. The light tends to pink with the streaky look of high clouds. 

Poolbeg Single – South Wall

There is of course also something to be said for 100% cloud across the board and how that can work for certain images.

Pod – A beautifully calm morning on Dunlaoghaire Pier, Not a creature was steering.

There are tons more inferences I could make about weather and planning, how this also influences what direction you should shoot, and how you choose locations on the basis of the forecast. The dew point, and how this helps us predict mist, cloud positions and interpreting the wind.

I’m afraid though you will need to come on a workshop with us for this bit of extra detail. For now, though I hope this blog was useful .. Peter

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