Macro Photography Lighting: The Ultimate Guide to Cloudy Light

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

If you’re interested in macro photography, you’ve got to master light.

You’ve got to.

Because beautiful lighting is one of the keys to stunning macro photography.

Fortunately, mastering light doesn’t have to be that hard.

And in this article, I’ll tell you all you need to know about one of the best types of macro photography lighting:

Cloudy light.

Let’s dive right in.

Why is Cloudy Light Great for Macro Photography?

Macro photographers often work with naturally beautiful subjects.

For instance, insects include interesting hues: Rich greens, blues, even oranges. And flowers are, well, flowers.

One of the ways to make these subjects stand out is to emphasize their colors.

To emphasize colors, you need soft light.

You see, soft light makes colors appear more saturated.

And the best way to get soft light…

…is to use clouds.

Clouds act like giant diffusers. They take the harsh light of the sun, and they soften it. They make it into something lovely and subtle.

Which is why, in macro photography, you can rarely go wrong with cloudy light.

Types of Cloudy Light

To the untrained eye, all cloudy light seems identical.

But in truth?

It’s not.

There are actually a few main types of cloudy light to be aware of. They depend on the thickness of the cloud cover and the position of the sun in the sky.

Here they are:

Noon and Thin Clouds

If you go out to do macro photography in the late morning or early afternoon…

and there are thin clouds in the sky…

The light will only be slightly diffused.

Yes, it’ll be a bit softer.

But not enough to make for wonderfully saturated colors.

So I recommend you don’t shoot during this situation–unless you have to.

And if you do find yourself needing to shoot under thin clouds at noon, try to use a subject in the shade.

Noon and Thick Clouds

If you go out around noon and find thick clouds, then you’re in luck.

Because thick clouds around noon are excellent for macro photography.

The light will be high overhead, so you don’t have to worry about its direction. And you should be able to capture some gorgeous shots with deeply saturated colors.

Early/Late and Thin Clouds

This is another great time for macro photography:

Early or late in the day, with thin clouds.

You see, during these times, the sun is low in the sky. So the light is already fairly soft.

The addition of some thin clouds only serves to make the lighting softer–which gives photos more of a refined look.

With thin clouds, you can also extend your photography to a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset (as opposed to waiting for the golden hour time period).

One thing to note:

If you’re going to shoot when the sun is low in the sky, you want to pay attention to the light’s direction. Even though the sun is obscured by clouds, it still casts (softer) directional light.

So it’s good to take a quick look at the sky before you start shooting. If you’re struggling to figure out the direction of the light, you can also look for slight shadows on the ground.

Then, try and make sure your subjects are frontlit. That is, position the sun behind you, so that it comes over your shoulder and onto your subject.

That way, you’ll be able to capture the best detail.

Early/Late and Thick Clouds

Here’s one final type of cloudy light for you:

Thick clouds in the morning or evening.

Now, this type of cloudy light isn’t ideal. Unfortunately, the sky tends to offer very limited light.

And the problem with limited light…

…is that it makes your pictures very, very dark. Unless you use a very slow shutter speed, that is.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

Go out in this type of cloudy weather. But use your widest aperture, even if that means you work with a tiny depth of field. Something around f/2.8.

Then be willing to work with a slow shutter speed–such as 1/100s, or even 1/80s. Just be careful. At macro magnifications, camera shake is increased. So you have to make sure that you’re working in a stable position before taking the shot.

I recommend tucking in your elbows and carefully cupping the lens in your left hand. I also recommend bracing your body against something–a wall, a tree, or even the ground. The lower you get, the more stable you’ll be.

For even better stability, actually brace your camera against something solid. I sometimes place my camera against the ground and shoot slightly upward.

Worst case scenario, you can use a tripod. Personally, I avoid tripods as much as possible–because they limit your flexibility in the field.

But when the light is low, you do what you have to!

Cloudy Light in Macro Photography: Next Steps

Now you should have a solid understanding of cloudy light.

You should know why cloudy light is fantastic for macro photography.

You should know about the four different types of cloudy light.

And you should be ready…

…to start taking some stunning macro photos!

But if you want to keep improving your macro photography skills, then you should sign up for my newsletter! I’ll send you lots of tips, tricks, and secrets, all designed to get you capturing gorgeous photos (as fast as possible!)

Simply enter your email below:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on reddit
Reddit

5 Comments

  1. Sarajit Sil

    Reply

    Excellent article! After all photography is all about light. The same subject looks so very different by just changing the quality of light.
    Thank you Jaymes!

    Regards
    Sarajit
    India

    • Jaymes Dempsey

      Reply

      Thank you, Sarajit! You’re absolutely right, light is so powerful. You can do so much just by changing the light!

  2. Graham Crossley

    Reply

    Thankyou for these wonderful tips on using clouds to get better lighting. Do you ever use artificial lighting, i.e. indoors? Do you have any help on setting up an indoor location for macro photography? Keep the tips coming, they are really very helpful.

    • Jaymes Dempsey

      Reply

      Thanks so much, Graham, I’m glad you enjoyed the tips! I occasionally shoot indoors, but I generally use window light rather than flash. I like to position my subject by a window that has either diffused light coming through it or has indirect sun. Depending on the look you’re going for, you can position your subject so you’re getting sidelight, backlight, etc. Let me know if you have any specific questions, and I’ll do my best to help! What type of setup are you trying to create?

  3. Rene Jolicoeur

    Reply

    I just try my first morning session. I am amazed with the subtle colours. Great article.The sky makes a great background. it is a yes from me

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FREE eBOOK

Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Stunning Nature Photos