Shooting Portraits On Overcast Days


Cloudy days are usually seen as an optimal time to photograph portraits, but too much of a good thing can turn bad. Like overcast days with 90% cloud cover…

If you are a photographer who gets excited when clouds appear (and how many of us do not?), here is my argument for why they are not so great and why I get frustrated when seem to sabotage my shooting plans (a frequent occurrence here in Berlin.)

Yes, overcast light is soft, but it can also be boring.

On cloudy days, it hard to distinguish mid-tones from shadows on the model’s skin and while can lead to flattering light, it also leads to flat light. This is because distinct shadows are what give an image it’s depth and “three-dimensionality”.

You can compensate for bland lighting by using an external flash. Capturing dramatic clouds can also add more ‘drama’ to the photograph and actually leverage the strengths of the environment.

Cloudz weather is also the perfect time to use more dynamic poses in your photoshoot. Since the light is so even, the model’s face does not have to be tilted at precise angles for the shadows to fall of correctly and so it is fine if they move around a lot.

The “racoon eyes” problem…

On overcast days, the main light (the clouds) is usually coming from directly above. It hits the model’s brow bone and casts a shadow over the eyes.

This is something I did not notice too well when I first began photography because, as mentioned, it is harder to distinguish mid-tones and shadows on overcast days. While the light is more even than on non-overcast days, it is still important to pay attention to its direction.

There are some hacks that work to get rid of the “racoon-eyes” problem most of the time but it is still best to learn to see the subtleties of light and adjust based on what you see right in front of you during the photoshoot.

Nonetheless, some of the hacks include: having the model tilt his/her chin up, shooting from above, shooting in tunnels or using a reflector/external flash.

Colors are less vibrant on cloudy days

The reason for this is that the light is not coming directly from the light source (i.e. the sun) but instead has to bounce on several surfaces before it gets to the model. While vibrance can be increased in photoshop, it will not look as great as if the photo was actually shot on a sunny day and if taken too far, it quickly starts to look unnatural.

Shooting with an external flash can be a good way to add a pop of color. Otherwise, black and white works great on cloudy days.