Adding Dimension on Overcast Days

Some photographers love shooting on overcast days because of the soft, natural lighting provided by the clouds. I hate it. So drab. So flat. No depth. No contrast. It is probably my LEAST favorite time to shoot (natural light) outdoors. I almost always take a couple of speed lights to my shoots because there are always needed to get exactly what I want in at least a couple of photos from a session.

This day with Jess and Scott was a prime example. There was soft cloud coverage from horizon to horizon. No break, whatsoever. Though this kept the direct sunlight away on this early afternoon shoot, it also kept away the dimension. The even light from all directions hindered the bold style my clients have come to prefer.

To combat this, adding a couple of speed lights did the trick in keeping the images dramatic and without requiring a ton of extra equipment.


The following image above was taken with two Sony speed lights. One of them was in a Westcott Rapid Box and the other was bare, with a CTO3 gel. I have included a behind the scenes image of the setup, below. I started by setting my exposure for the one thing I could not control, the background (lit by ambient light). I dropped the exposure a little more than what was seen with my eye to give a little more separation between Jess and the wall of bamboo trees.


My first light (in the Rapid Box) was set up high and moved a little to Jess’ right. This provided good light on her and lit the brush a tad. Though the lighting was where I wanted it for the most part, all of the brush in the right portion of the frame was a little too dark. The second (CTO gelled) speed light provided just enough light to get the look I was going for. I simply pointed this light at the area in my frame that was a little too dark.

By adding a simple speed light to this scene, I was able to not only control the direction/quality of the light but give the image some dimension. Below is another example from the same setup.


For this session and area, I used the same lights and modifiers to get a few different looks. The next one was focused on Jess’ tummy. I set up the first light (key light in Rapid Box) high and to camera left, the second (kicker light CTO gelled) behind her and pointed at her head. The first light provided the primary illumination on the subject and the second gave a touch of color and highlighting to Jess’ hair. It also helped keep her dark hair from blending into the dark greenery, behind her.


The last image was a simple portrait of Jess. The lighting for the key light was not changed. However, the kicker light was aimed at a portion of the trees behind her. I loved the orange highlight on the green. The bokeh of the Zeiss 35 f/1.4 looked amazing to me.


As you can see from the examples above, I was able to get quite a bit of variety with only two additional lights. The overcast day provided some decent images in the open, but as soon as we stepped out of the open, we were much more limited.

I hope these examples helps you get some ideas in ways you can keep from limiting your shooting options when the weather isn’t working the way you hope!


Camera: Sony a7rii

Lens: Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4

Lights: Sony HVL-FM60M

Lighting Trigger: Phottix Odin ii (for Sony)

Modifiers: Wesctott Rapid Box 26″ Octa

Accessories: Giottos 10′ Light Stand