Thursday, March 01, 2007


click photo to enlarge
It's cloud illusions I recall,
I really don't know clouds, at all.
Joni Mitchell (1943- ), Canadian singer, songwriter, painter

Leaving people aside, what would you say is the most beautiful sight on earth? Flowers? Birds? A favourite landscape? Or perhaps a particular work of art? There is certainly beauty in all those areas, but, if pushed, I would undoubtedly nominate the loveliness of clouds.

In many parts of the world clouds are an almost daily presence, and in some areas are a constant that people try to wish away. Perhaps it's this familiarity that makes people overlook their allure. Yet, if you lie on your back on a summer day, with a fresh breeze blowing endlessly forming and re-forming cumulus clouds across an azure sky, you can re-capture something of the sense of beauty and wonder that you probably experienced as a child, when you took more notice of clouds. Scientists have systematised clouds into types grouped by the height at which they are found. If you know something of this then you'll probably recognise stratus, cirrus, cumulo nimbus, and possibly the many other variants. But an appreciation of clouds can exist independently of any knowledge. Their beauty lies in the way the light illuminates them and pierces them, in the colours that they show at different times of day, in the contrast they make with the background sky and the land below, and in the changing shapes that bring endless delight to anyone who cares to look. It seems I'm not alone in my admiration for clouds. An organisation of enthusiasts - The Cloud Appreciation Society - has over seven and a half thousand members! Here you can read what John Ruskin had to say about the beauty of the sky.

My photograph shows clouds over the sea near Lytham windmill, Lancashire. The sun is trying to force its way through the rain-bearing, swirling mass, but with little success. I emphasised the yellow tinge to increase the dramatic effect, and gave a blue complementary tint to the rest of the image. This isn't a photograph of the scene as it actually appeared to me - it is a picture I have created out of the component parts, and that I have altered to give a melancholy, possibly spectral, mood. I used a wide zoom lens at 44mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/2000 sec), ISO 100. I dialled in -1.3 EV to capture the detail of the brightest part of the clouds and to give a silhouette effect to the buildings and people.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen