Sunshine on a cloudy day.

Not every day out with the camera is going to be a drop dead gorgeous sunny day.
In fact there is a saying “good photographers sleep during the heat of the midday sun ”

Why? because bright, direct sun light, causes some of the worst photographing conditions around.
Ok, I admit it, I made that saying up, but still lol.

So for this article we will look at how to get the best images on those days when the sun hides behind the clouds and refuses to poke its nose out.

Firstly there are some great advantages to taking photos in cloudy, over cast conditions.
whites or highlights don’t blow out, blown out means whites become so bright that the camera cant record any detail, all you get is solid pure white, lacking any fine detail or slight colour variations.

Here is a perfect example of a happy mistake.

Image ID = kāruhiruhi the Pied Shag

I overexposed the above young Pied Shag by at least 2 stops but was able to drag some detail back into the bird with Lightroom.
the background is completely blown out and featureless.
I really like this image but from a technical point of view I blew it big time (pun intended )

On overcast days, brightly coloured birds can undergo a remarkable colour sift.

Without the bright sunlight bouncing the light back off the bird, the light is absorbed and you can see much greater feather detail.

This first bird is an Australasian shoveler duck and is our most colourful native duck.
The first shot is taken in bright conditions.

kuruwhengu the Australasian shoveler

This second shot is of a similar coloured bird but in very subdued light.

Taken in low light conditions, the colours of this bird really stand out.

Again another bird in low light conditions

Low light allows the light to be absorbed instead of bounced back at the camera person.

If you can be out in light drizzling rain without drowning your camera even better, you can capture shots that are much different from the stock standard sunny day shot most people have.

Light drizzle and the colour changes again

Here we can see a comparison with a Mallard drake.
the first in bright direct light

nice image but little in the way of richness

Subdued light

Much more detail and richer in colour


Shutter speed.
Ideally, you want to be tripping the shutter at twice the speed as your focal length.
so with a 300mill lens, you want to be around 600th of a second but this is just not realistic much of the time.

Image stabilization (IS) is a must if one wants to be serious about wildlife photography.
don’t bother wasting any money on a lens that does not support Image stabilization (IS)

Nowadays it can mean 2-3 stops of speed, each stop equally the effect of doubling the speed of the shutter.
this brings the man with the 300 mil lens down to a shutter speed of 200 or less.

Then practice holding your camera steady, learn to pan with the birds on the water don’t stop moving with the bird when you trip the shutter.

If you have a relatively new DSLR (?) then the game is all yours, over the last 5-10 years the ability for cameras to take really good images at high ISO, 800 and above has changed wildlife photography forever.
each stop of ISO (double value) doubles the speed that the camera can register the image on the camera’s sensor. 100, 200 , 400, 800, 1600. each full increment doubles the speed of the camera.

Practice with your camera; try out your high ISO settings in varying conditions.
Very poor low light just makes the effects of high ISO far too grainy (digital noise) and sometimes you have to walk away and come back another day, however, limited but good light may enable you to go 1600 and higher.

This Female Paradise shellduck was shot on a bright day but limited light on the water and weak light on the bird its self.
At ISO 1600  I knew I could get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the bird sharply.

Mostly the slowest I shoot is ISO 800, this gives me a better chance of getting the shot sharp, yet still gives me acceptable fine detail given reasonable light.

The higher the ISO setting, the faster the shutter speed, the faster the shutter speed, the more likely you will be at successfully getting a sharp image.

The tradeoff is always going to be high ISO = a bit grainy (digital noise) that hides the finest details but it can also give you a shot to store on your HDD or post to your mates on the internet.


In light cloudy conditions the focus of the image may be of the sky its self.
A storm front approaching can be very dramatic.

Thunder clouds forming Ahuriri Valley, South Canterbury, New Zealand


Cold and moody, Ahuriri Valley, South Canterbury, New Zealand

If you’re a serious landscape photographer you will be using a tripod so we won’t worry too much about the settings you take your images at, what ISO and such, so shutter speed will not be an issue, instead all your focus will be on the drama.

A winter wonderland would be the way to describe the Ahuriri Valley in winter. South Canterbury, New Zealand

So just because its overcast out there, don’t find something else to do, grab that camera and head out and see what you can get.

7 thoughts on “Sunshine on a cloudy day.

  1. scrapydo

    Wow, a lot of information at once. I’ll have to study it piece by piece. You have some awesome examples which shows how it must be/not be

      1. scrapydo

        I sent your link to my sister in SA. She said she has started to follow your blog too.Maybe I could reblog your blog on mine?

  2. stevex2wellynz

    Great informative read. I tend not to be a technical photographer but sort of absorb this knowledge through practice and totally agree with what you’re saying. I find some of my best bird shots are taken on a cloudy or hazy day, and, yes, I am almost always shooting at about 800 ISO, even higher if I am trying to photograph in the deep shade of the bush without using flash.

  3. Mac McMullen

    Nice work Tony – great explanations there – inspires me to get out with my new camera and play with it (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Mirrorless F2.8 gets out to 600mm with the one fixed lens) Trying to freeze the little bush birds is the challenge at the moment. Cheers


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