Why Should You Do Night Photography When It’s Cloudy?

It’s the weekend. You’re finally have some time away from your job. You’re ready to hop in the car with your camera gear, ready to drive a few hours at night listening to weird music and get good and dusty. You’re ready for night photography.
But it’s cloudy.
Should you pack it in and fire up Netflix?
Maybe not.
Clouds can add immense drama and interest to your photo, and can sometimes make a night photo better. They can frame your subject or add interest to the night sky or glow from the moon or even light pollution. They can add a beautiful mysterious glow to the stars. Moon or no, clouds can look magnificent. Just as with day photography, they can add interest, so it is with night photography as well.
For long exposures, it’s usually best when they are moving a bit and not completely covering the sky, although even then, it’s possible to get some good photos.
Let’s look at a few photos.
The photo above has quite a few clouds. I checked my app, Clear Outside, and it stated that that the sky could be as much as 100% total cloud cover. The app does describe whether the clouds are high clouds, medium clouds, or low clouds as well as giving total cloud cover, so you can tell the character of the clouds, which is rather useful. Additionally, the app gives other information, such as when the International Space Station is visible, visibility, fog, rain, and wind. On this particular night, I saw that there was some wind and that there was between 80-100% high clouds. This sounded grim. And it was a long drive to this location. But we had received permission, so we perservered. We were rewarded with beautiful dramatic skies that glowed profusely from light pollution, streaked wispily across the sky, yet revealed the glorious Milky Way over head. In this photo, I quietly observed which way the wind was blowing so I could pre-visualize how the clouds would look. I knew that they were sort of coming toward the camera and would dramatically bracket the airplane in the foreground. And here, because these clouds are higher, wispier clouds and because they are moving from wind, they don’t completely occlude the stars, but add a gorgeous, diffuse glow.
The next photo, shown above, is absurdly cloudy. It was initially somewhat clear, but as the sun melted into the horizon, more and more clouds appeared until finally, almost the entire sky was covered. Initially disappointed, I began to realize that the clouds might add a certain eeriness to some of the photos of houses buried in sand. Here’s a photo in which I actually desaturated the photo slightly to go with the cloudy feel and exaggerate the already eerie feel.
Partially cloudy skies work as well, even when the clouds are low, as with this photo above, taken in Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert. The blurring of the moving clouds adds drama and movement to the composition, and bracket the rocky foreground, adding to the already surreal landscape. Although this would be more romantic if we knew the glow were from a setting sun, the reality is that this is light pollution from Coachella Valley.
The above photo, also taken in Joshua Tree National Park, shows quickly moving low clouds, and again, the long exposure adds a sense of drama and movement. Here, an almost full moon backlights the Joshua Tree and adds a beautiful glow to the clouds.
This last example of night photography with clouds is admittedly more obvious since it’s accompanied by the additional drama of a lightning storm. This is of course the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was doubly lucky because to the back of me was a full moon that was beautifully illuminating the canyon below, with the Colorado snaking through the rocky terrain. Here, the clouds are also in movement, coming almost right toward the camera and adding, once again, drama and movement to the photo.
When you see clouds before going out to photograph, remember that this doesn’t mean you are automatically hosed. Sure, maybe it may block your Milky Way. But maybe it won’t. And maybe, it will add drama to the night sky that you never even imagined possible. I hope this was helpful or inspiring. Please share if you like it, and please leave a comment below.


Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)

Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols



Pinout: Versatile Remote Controller and App for Nikon cameras!

Hey photography freaks! I used a Pinout camera remote control device and app to do star trails and long exposure photos when I was out in Joshua Tree N.P. last weekend. I really liked it and thought I’d turn you on to it. I have nothing to gain by doing this, and am not sleeping without anyone from the company. 😀  All photos on this post were taken using the Pinout except for, uh, the one showing the PInout, which is from Zesty’s website. Sadly, it’s only available for Nikon at this point.

Pinout’s Pro kit, which is one of three models, supports loss/theft prevention, simple release, long exposure, timed-release, time-lapse, distance lapse, star trail, geo tagging, geo logging.


Above: Pinout on a Nikon D800. On my D610, it actually goes into the side of the camera, not the front, inserting where the remote shutter release goes.

Pinout is a bluetooth remote control device that acts as an amazingly varied multi-functional remote for your camera (and with the top-of-the-line Full Kit, offers multi-camera remote control!), a geo-tagging device, and a loss/theft prevention feature. You can also activate the camera via voice command, or by shaking your phone. Cool.

The loss/theft aspect, as near as I can tell, only works when your camera is on. This would be handy, particularly for night photographers like us weirdos, if you are doing a long exposure photo and you either lose where your camera was or if your camera “grows legs” and wanders off. However, it’s not so great if you are storing it, as your camera battery is not likely to be on.

I love this aspect of Pinout also. Once you begin the exposure, whether it is a long series of photos for star trails or anything else, you can actually close the app on the phone and do something else (or let the phone “sleep”) and it will continue. This is really well designed, and the app is very easy to use and intuitive.

5477_kenlee_2017-02-13_0111_joshuatree30mtotal-3mf8iso800_startrailslargetree_byroad_star-trails_1000pxAbove: 30 minute stacked photo taken with Pinout.

Here’s what I like about it so far:
1.) Super easy to register and set up and directly connect to the camera.
2.) Does not need to be mounted on the hot shoe and connected with a cable and dongle (again, easy set up).
3.) Small and unobtrusive.
4.) Bluetooth connection appeared solid most of the time, and even if it wasn’t, as long as the star trails or long exposure had been set in motion, it didn’t matter. I could fire the connection reliably from at least 50 ft./15 meters away.
5.) The app is really nicely laid out and easy to use, and I have not needed the manual so far to figure it out.
6.) You can use it to focus the camera as well as trigger it.
7.) The star trails portion is very easy to figure out and set and is extremely flexible.
8.) Unlike Triggertrap, you don’t run down your smartphone. In fact, you can turn off the app on your phone completely, and it will still complete the task at hand, whether star trails or something else.
9.) Also does simple release, long exposure, timed release, time-lapse, distance lapse, geo-tagging, bulb ramping LE HDR, LE HDR Time-lapse, and loss prevention (if the device strays beyond a certain distance, it will alert you, but even if the connection were broken, if the exposure had already been set in motion, the PInout faithfully continued).
10.) Blinks to let you know that the device is connected. Connection seems solid so far.
11.) Draws a very small, minimal charge from the camera instead of requiring the device to be charged, which is very convenient because I don’t have to be concerned with whether yet another device has been charged.
12.) You can close the app and lock the phone and Pinout continues (with Triggertrap, the app had to remain open and illuminated; if you closed the app, its control also stopped).
13.) Responsive customer service via email.


Above: Photo taken in Joshua Tree National Park, CA using the Pinout remote camera control device and app. The layout of the app is really simple.

Concerns at this time:
1.) I said it was small. This is generally a bonus, but I am concerned that it might be easy to lose. I already put some orange gaffer’s tape on it so it would be easier to see  since I photograph at night.
2.) I am concerned that it will be easy to break off in the camera if I mistakenly bang it around doing night photography. Because of this, I purchased a 3-year extended warranty.
3.) Only works with Nikon at this time.
4.) It does not fit on a Nikon D610 when using an L-Bracket.
5). Occasionally, even when the phone is within 3 ft./1 meter of the Pinout and the camera, a warning would appear saying that I was in danger of breaking the connection. Again, even if the connection were broken, it seemed that if I were doing a star trails or long exposure, Pinout would continue regardless, which is a relief.
6.) Sometimes requires time for the smartphone and Pinout to re-establish contact if you shut down the phone or close the app, which the app thankfully indicates by having the camera icon light up. This will only matter for triggering the device, and will not matter if you have already triggered the camera, as Pinout will faithfully execute this regardless.
7.) Loses contact if something obstructs the signal path between you and Pinout, such as a building or sometimes a very large tree.T his too will only matter for triggering the device, and will not matter if you have already triggered the camera, as Pinout will faithfully execute this regardless.

I absolutely love this device. Excellent and very capable, and invaluable for things like star trails. I also love that I can trigger the camera remotely, which is good for night time selfies or getting in position to “light paint” quick photos of the Milky Way when there are only 15 or 20 seconds in the exposure. And I love that Pinout is powered by the camera and not another device that requires charging. Excellent device.

Above: Beautiful desert scene in Joshua Tree National Park using the Pinout remote control camera device and app on my smartphone.
Pinout website:
This is the model Pinout I am currently using:
Long Exposure Night Photo with Light Painting Using Pinout. All photos taken with a Nikon D610 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens on a Feisol tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead.

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!