Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time and place for sunny blue skies, especially in the Seattle area where we have measurable rain approximately 150 days of the year. I will also agree that most outdoorsy activities, including hiking, sailing, skiing and golf to name just a few, can be quite enjoyable on cloudless days. For purposes of landscape photography, however, the word “yech” comes to mind. Simply put, a sunny blue sky is a curse. It’s essentially nature’s cruel way of telling you, “Don’t bother, just leave your camera home today.”
So why is this so? Because a blue sky is boring. Even if you try to dress it up with labels like “azure,” “indigo,” or “cobalt,” it’s still a blue sky – and one can only do so much when an image’s main subject has a monotonous blue backdrop. (Keep in mind I’m talking here about landscape photography versus, say, travel photography. A shot of a sandy, palm tree-lined beach in Maui with a deep azure sky in the background is a completely different story.)
A blue sky has equally bad consequences for black-and-white landscape photography. In a monochrome, the color blue – like any other color – will always translate to a particular shade of gray. So for purposes of a black-and-white landscape shot – unless you really enjoy that undistinctive gray overcast look – avoid a blue sky like the plague.
So what’s the solution? That’s easy: CLOUDS. In my book, clouds are imperative if you want an evocative landscape image. Doesn’t matter what kind, they can be low-level clouds, medium-level clouds or high clouds. (For the uninformed, clouds are classified by form and height. I happen to know this stuff because I’ve got access to Wikipedia!) My personal favorite is a cumulus cloud – you know, the type of low-level cloud whose top resembles a head of cauliflower.
Speaking of cumulus clouds, let’s discuss the featured image (“Billowy”). This was taken on the coast of Pacific County in southwest Washington. The county seat is South Bend (pop. 1,651), the self-proclaimed Oyster Capitol of the World which also happens to have a very cool historic courthouse. After photographing the courthouse, my partner Carol and I decided to have lunch on the Long Beach Peninsula. While the 43-mile drive on Highway 101 is scenic in its own right, we were greeted by this amazing cumulus cloud as we approached Willapa Bay. Thanks to Google maps, I was able to pinpoint the exact location where we pulled over to snap a few shots: WA Historical Marker #8 – Bruceville-Bruceport. (Sorry, I can’t provide a link because the URL is too long and would take a whole paragraph.)
We offer custom-framed black-and-white landscape prints at our gallery on Bainbridge Island, and I can personally attest that each one features evocative clouds (including not only cumulus but also cirrus and nimbostratus clouds). In addition, we have an excellent assortment of matted prints, metal prints, canvas prints, and fine art acrylic prints. For gallery hours, please consult our Contact page.
Ciao for now!
Andrew (“Andy”) Bergh