Author: Kerrick James
Most of my sixty or so Arizona Highways photo workshops have featured the pursuit of Landscape, the endlessly challenging chase for light and drama, texture and natural design that we hope will unite in an evocative slice of time that both defines a place, and your skill in rendering that reality. Somewhat paradoxically, it’s very often the atmospheric phenomena above the land that elevate the image to its greatest impact. In a word, Clouds, are key. Call them ‘icing on the cake’, or any descriptor you wish, but distinctive clouds are always worth waiting or planning for. I’ve whiled away thousands of hours over the years waiting for clouds to arrive or depart, to morph or reveal, and still they surprise, delight and confound me.
Storm clouds of all types are inherently dramatic, and indeed stormlight is my personal favorite situation. But having Clouds in place over a striking graphic landform is always my chief goal, as the clouds themselves without a hint of land are merely meteorological trophies. It seems there are more types of clouds than earthly gemstones, and here are some examples:
Shiprock, New Mexico (linear, horsetail Clouds)
Jungfrau, Switzerland (clearing storm clouds)
Hunts Mesa, Monument Valley (morning monsoon clouds)
Three Sisters, Monument Valley (morning monsoon clouds)
Sometimes the clouds are moving at surprising speed over the land, and by using a neutral density filter and very low ISO, you can attain long shutter speeds even in full sunlight. Obviously a sturdy tripod is essential, and don’t forget that you can shoot clouds at night if you have some moonlight to work with.
Colorado River at North Canyon, Grand Canyon (30 seconds, F 11, ISO 100)
Sunrise light on Totem Pole (Yei Be Chi), Monument Valley (1/10th second, F/16)
Stars and clouds over the Bluemlisalphorn, Switzerland (172 seconds F8, ISO 100)
And let’s face it, luck favors those who wake up early, or wait past the edge of patience. Last June I finally got sweet light after sunrise, illuminating clouds that featured patterns and weight and well, gravitas, flowing slowly over Double Arch. It only took thirty years to find them there, or to find myself in the right place, at the right moment, watching the clouds go by…
Sunrise clouds over Double Arch, Arches NP, Utah