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Oh no! You have one day to photograph Paris… but it’s cloudy. And you’ve heard that magazines and photo buyers like bright, cheery travel images.

All is not lost. The solution to the “cloudy” problem comes down to one skill that will make a huge difference in your photos.

When people think about learning how to take better pictures, they usually think about either: A. Mastering all the bells and whistles on their camera… or B. Learning better composition.

Yes, those things are important. But there’s one thing that makes a bigger difference in your photography than either technical skills or composition.

Learning this one thing transformed my photography from ho-hum to something I can sell. In fact, because I learned this skill, my photography has taken me around the world, earned me thousands of dollars, given me a special status among my friends, and allowed me to turn one of my favorite hobbies into a lucrative side-income.

That one skill is: understanding light.

I’m not talking about flash or studio lights. I’m talking about recognizing the quality of light that’s around you at all times.

Look around you right now. Is the light hard or soft? What color is it? What direction is it coming from?

When you start to notice these things as you shoot, it will make a huge difference in the outcome of your photos.

So, what do you do about cloudy, gray light?

Option 1: Shoot portraits and details.

The soft, even light of cloudy days makes for excellent portrait and detail shots.

So if you’re in a city and you need photos for your article, look for people photos… head to the farmer’s market and shoot the fruit and vegetables… and capture architectural details or plants.

cloudy day photos

This is also a great time to shoot any product or food shots indoors next to a window, when you can have soft light and shadows:

shadow photography indoors

Cloudy days can also be great for shooting portraits indoors near windows for the same reason. The light and shadows are softened, and it’s even possible to shoot directly into a window, with your subjects backlit… as I did here.

portrait photo in cloudy conditions

Option 2: Go back at twilight.

Typically, even when it’s cloudy, you can still get beautiful, deep blue skies during blue hour.

Scout out the location you want to shoot while it’s cloudy, then go back with your tripod at sunset and stay until it’s dark. In that time between sunset and dark, you should get a deep, cobalt sky.

blue hour cloudy photography

Option 3: Get moody!

Overcast days are not the ideal time to take bright, colorful cityscapes. But they’re great for moody shots—especially when you make them black and white.

A few years ago, I took a group of people to the Eiffel Tower at sunrise… but it was so cloudy there was nothing but gray. So, we used it to our advantage by placing something in the foreground—in this case, we scared a group of pigeons into the shot.

cloudy photos of Paris

Same thing with this photo I took in Portland’s Forest Park. Sometimes dark, misty days can give you a mood and a feel that you don’t get in the average sunny shots.

portland photo of trees in cloudy conditions

More than anything else, success as a photographer is about coming up with creative solutions.

When you’re photographing an outdoor wedding and it rains… when you’re trying to take stand-out travel photos on a dull, cloudy day… when you need to take a portrait outside, and the sun is casting hard shadows everywhere…

There are solutions for each of those situations and more—and they all come down to using the light you have to your advantage.

That is what will not only make your photos come out OK… but it’s what will elevate them to creative works of art.

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