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Weather watching

An Introduction to Clouds

Fran Halsall

Fran Halsall

Fran Halsall specialises in photographing the UK landscape, particularly the wilder parts of the coastline, moorlands and woodlands, and has a particular passion for creating interpretative images of geological formations.

Weather watching

Although there is no way of exerting control over the weather (cloud-seeding experiments aside) a bit of knowledge about how changes in atmospheric conditions affect the type and density of cloud cover, and conversely, what clouds can reveal about the coming conditions, will allow for a more successful prediction of what will happen next. As photographers, rather than meteorologists, all we can ever really hope for is an understanding of trends. However, as detailed observers of the environment we can read the sky for clues, buying precious time to pre-visualise possible lighting effects, compose a potential photograph and spend the remaining minutes with fingers crossed in hope.

From historical sayings such as ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’ to the contemporary practice of analysing airplane vapour trails to reveal conditions in the upper atmosphere, looking to the skies is part and parcel of the everyday anticipation of how the weather will aid or ruin our best laid plans. Although it is commonplace to dismiss the accuracy of weather forecasts - even meteorologists will admit that it is easier to predict climate trends over decades than it is to get the minutiae of daily regional forecasts correct - there is much information to be gleaned that will assist the landscape photographer in making the decisions of where to go and when.

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  • tobers

    Very nicely done – thanks for the article. Predicting light conditions is a key determining factor in whether I stay put at a location or give up and go home, so the info above is very helpful.

    • Thanks Tobers. Glad to know it will help you out when making those all important decisions.


  • Charlie Packard

    Having spent 3.5 hours waiting in vain for forecast mist…reality fog… to lift this morning in the Chilterns, your excellent article is very helpful. I shall need to re-read it several times in conjunction with Eric M. Wilcox’s book ‘Clouds’ that I have just re-found on a bookshelf !! It must have taken you much valuable photography time to write the article…so thank you :-)

    • Thanks Charlie,

      Yes it has been fairly low-cloud here in the Peak District for the last two days, not low enough to called mist sadly and all very uninspiring.

      I shall have to look into the book you mention as I have not heard of it.

      • Just spent the last couple of days in the Peaks with Joe Cornish and David Ward. It wasn’t the easiest conditions to work in but we should have a couple of challenge articles for the magazine in the next few issues. We went to Bolehill which was cool and then to Padley Gorge and spent an hour photographing the same tress as a challenge.

        • Some of my favourite trees in the whole of the Peak District are found in Yarncliffe Wood next to Padley Gorge. Did you know it only exists because it was planted to provide charcoal for what was then the Sheffield iron industry?

          I hope you got some good shots between you.

  • Scott Rae

    Awesome article! Cloud porn!!! More!!!!! :c)

    The weather plays such a huge part in everyone’s lives, particularly here in the UK, and it plays such a massive role in photography in particular. It does make a lot of sense to know a little bit about the it to know how best to exploit the prevailing conditions.

    (From an ex professional weather observer – yes, people really did used to get paid to spot clouds!)

    • Professional cloud-spotting! Sounds like me perfect job. :D I take it this role has been superceded by technology?

      • Scott Rae

        Surprisingly, no! Technology has improved, but it’s also improved in all of the other roles the observer supported, so there is less need for a dedicated role. Similarly, there has been a lot of rationalisation in the observer network as RAF bases close and forecasting techniques improve, but there are still a few out there – just! I just moved into IT… not such a fun role!

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