3 Ways To Expose For Clouds

Before reading this article, please be sure to also read Filter vs Brackets which compliments this article.

If you’re regular reader of my blog then you know that I often blog answers to questions I receive via email.

A while back I received an awesome question from a reader/subscriber and I have been wanting to get the answer out there since then. However, an opportunity has no presented itself until recently. So without further waiting, here we go.

The email asked a question that I did not quite understand so I followed up for further details. I replied with, “Are you asking how to expose for clouds and the rest of the scene and still have nice exposure throughout?”

And the follow-up was, “Yes that’s exactly what I’m asking. Is it taking a reading from a certain focus point and that’s it? Or is it moving the camera totally, getting a reading and then re-composing?”

Fortunately there are 3 awesome ways for exposing for the clouds without losing detail in the rest of the scene.

Before I continue in text, here is a video where I talk about the 3 ways to expose for clouds.

Exposing for Clouds

Masking is a straight forward way of doing it. First you’d use spot metering to decide the exposure of what’s below the horizon line, like grass. I recommend spot metering so that the meter is not gathering the light from the rest of the scene. Doing so makes it quicker and easier to find the perfect exposure for one specific area of a scene.

Once you capture the frame below the horizon line you would do the same for the what’s above the horizon line. In this situation, the sky and clouds.

Then using onOne Software’s Perfect Mask or Photoshop you would mask away the sky from the first frame to show the perfectly exposed sky in the second frame.

HDR is a technique where you bracket 3 – 9 (or more depending on your needs) frames of one scene. Then using software like Photomatix you would merge them into one very large image file. That final image will have enough detail in the shadows to highlights to create a product where the clouds are as well exposed as the rest of the scene.

Definitely check out my friend Trey’s HDR tutorial and use the coupon code scottwyden to save 10% off the paid course. Also use the coupon code ScottWyden15 for 15% off Photomatix Pro.

Graduated Neutral Density filters are the best way to achieve the result in-camera, without needing post processing techniques. Some photographers, like Matt Klosowski, prefer not using GNDs. Everyone has their own methods, and Matt prefers the post processing method so he carries less equipment.

I typically prefer having the filters because I enjoy the time, thought and process of setting it all up. That’s not to say the filter is the best way or the worst. It’s just another tool in the toolbox.

To learn more about neutral density filters please pick up a copy of my eBook, Time Is On Your Side: Exploring Long Exposure Photography.

If you have any questions about this topic please comment below.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,


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