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Nights drawing in? Take photos that beat the rest during gloomy weather

Tom Durrant
Written by Tom Durrant

As the nights begin to draw in and the clouds gather, it’s a sad time for ice cream manufacturers but darker conditions shouldn’t hinder your opportunity to take the best photography on Rightmove or Zoopla.

Take a read below for some sure-fire tricks that will give you the confidence for that next time you’re shooting in the gloom.

If it’s cloudy, does it matter when I should pop out to take the photo?

Well it depends. Normally, even on a dull day sunlight will make a difference as it travels through the clouds and hits the elevation you’re shooting. I would always recommend using www.suncalc.net to inform the best time to photograph the main elevations/or indeed the garden if it’s North facing!

Ok, so I’ve arrived and I’m ready. It still looks cloudy, so I’ve turned on flash to brighten up the house. What should I do next?

Whoa-there partner! Now’s the time to think about your settings but flash is absolutely not necessary, nor will it help.

Although adding light to a photo might seem a logical response to a day’s dullness, in actual-fact it’s a waste of time. There’s no camera-bag flash yet created that has sufficient power to illuminate a house and if there was, you would probably see it from space!

Take a look at photos on property portals and you’ll see plenty of examples of agents using flash outside. It can cast a shadow on driveways and grass and reflect off glazing in doors and windows, as well as creating little hot spots that look ugly.

But it’s so dull. How do I make the use of what little light there is?

Think about the other settings you have available.  For example, look for the WB – White Balance Button and use the Cloudy preset when it’s… cloudy.

When it’s cloudy, and your camera’s set to AWB (Auto White Balance) you’ll see that there will be a blue cast over your image. When you use the cloudy pre-set, the camera will add red to the image, making it appear warmer.

To see what I mean, find your WB button, press it and you’ll see a menu like the one below.

So, take your photo, then look at the camera’s screen and look especially hard at the colours. What you see on the screen is what you’re going to get when you open it up on the computer, so if the colours look ‘off’ then go to the camera’s above menu and select the WB icon that matches the lighting conditions. We’re talking about cloudy conditions here, so select the cloud icon.

OK makes sense. Is there anything else I need to be aware of?

Remember to use the correct aperture setting to give your photos a deep depth of field. This will make your images look sharper, especially during a cloudy or dull day.

Your SLR camera has what’s known as ‘Aperture Priority Mode’. Set your dial to this and then set the F number (aperture) to F8 if it’s cloudy. [In bright sunny conditions, if you’re using an 18-55mm lens, try to increase the number to F11 for even sharper images.] 

Set the ISO up to 800 – you’ll see a button called ISO somewhere on the camera, it’s usually on the back. Doing this will make the camera’s image sensor more sensitive to light so that you can use faster shutter speeds. BUT – (there’s always a but) – unless you have a very expensive camera, watch that the ISO number you use isn’t set higher than 800, or the quality of your images might deteriorate. If you can get a fast-enough shutter speed at 400 ISO then use that instead.

Yup. Never use auto ISO!

The ISO menu will give you a choice of settings, including ‘Auto’ and other settings starting at 100, then 200, 400, 800 – and way higher than that – how much higher depends on the camera and model you’re using. If you select ‘Auto’ the camera is likely to select an ISO setting of over 800 when the weather’s gloomy. So – NEVER EVER use Auto ISO or your camera will be in control of you, rather than you in control of the camera.

And when you’ve taken your shots it’s more than likely they’ll need some post-processing treatment to lift the shadows further, add blue skies and improve the exposure still. You can do this yourselves or send to an enhancing professional like Doctor Photo.

Is it really that easy – is there something else to think about?

Well, no and yes, in that order. When you get used to setting the camera up correctly, it becomes incredibly easy. It’s a little like driving a car – eventually, you will change your camera settings as easily as you change gear.

When it’s cloudy, one of the most important things to watch out for is that you have a fast-enough shutter speed when you’re hand-holding your camera. The main objective when the camera’s in hand and you’re using Aperture Priority (AV) mode, is to ensure your camera’s selecting a shutter speed that’s fast enough to freeze any movements you might have in your hands/body. In most cameras you’ll see the shutter speed far left of your viewfinder when you’re looking through it.

As a rough guide, if you’re using your 18-55mm lens at, say, 40mm (somewhere in the middle of the lens’ range), then you’ll need to ensure the shutter speed you’re seeing is around 1/60th of a second, or faster. The easy way to know what focal length your lens is set to is to look at the top of the lens where you’ll see the focal lengths marked between 18 and 55mm. Look at the setting you’ve selected and in your head roughly multiply that by one and a half. The precise number would be 1.6 but let’s not quibble over a small fraction.

Ensuring you’ve selected a fast-enough shutter speed will mean that any hand/body movement will be frozen. If you’re not getting the speed you want then consider opening the aperture to 5.6 but be aware that the image might start to look soft in places. Also consider raising the ISO from 400 to 800 but be aware that you might start to see a loss of quality in your image.

Think of this exercise as a negotiation. “If I do this, that will happen.” “If I do that, this will happen”. Think about the outcome you want to achieve and experiment. Not all cameras are equal, so you might well find that you can extend your settings beyond those that I’ve given you above.

About the author

Tom Durrant

Tom Durrant

Tom Durrant is Director of Doctor Photo, an award-winning photo enhancing agency for estate agents. Tom and his company are on a mission to transform property photography, re-touching many thousands of photos every month with everything from blue skies to virtual furniture. Doctor Photo also trains estate agents across the UK in the art of using a camera.

Tom Durrant has a real passion for pushing the boundaries in creative thinking, all things marketing and, of course, the property industry!

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