The Beautiful Light of Overcast

by Kerry Drager

Color Contrast on Overcast Day
Color Contrast on Overcast Day
© Jim Miotke
All Rights Reserved
(Note: This article is adapted from "The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light" by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager)

Soft, pleasing light can enrich many colorful subjects. Overcast lighting often makes colors more vivid than direct sunlight and is more likely to reveal delicate details as well. Muted light offers minimal contrast, so scenes arenít marred by deep shadows and glaring highlights.

The soft, even illumination cast by a white sky is especially flattering for photographing people, and a thick cloud cover mimics the studio light produced with soft boxes and white umbrellas.

The diffused sunlight of an all-white or all-gray sky is wonderful not only for photographing people but also flowers, pets, close-up subjects, waterfalls and streams, intimate landscapes, and colorful architectural details.

Fun Portrait on Cloudy Day
Fun Portrait on Cloudy Day
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Tip: Beware of White Sky

While an overcast sky filters the sun to create pleasing light, an image containing a big expanse of stark white or light gray, featureless sky will often be disappointing - the brightness can make everything else in the photo look dark in comparison. Hereís the usual "rule": Skip grand-scale scenics that include boring (read: white or light gray) skies.

Oh sure, there are exceptions to the no-sky rule, but not many. Either leave a white sky out completely, or severely reduce the amount of it.


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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school.

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also see his Visual Creativity photography blog, and follow Kerry on Facebook.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.