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Note: This is an updated version of a previously published blog.
I’m always mesmerised by clouds. It doesn’t matter how often you see clouds, or how many different shapes, shades or textures you experience, they are fantastic to watch; like floating candy-floss pillows, bouncing along the horizon.
I see something beautiful. A growing living thing that can’t be tamed. Clouds are imperative for life on earth. They provides shelter from the sun, water from rain, mist to calm and quieten the streets. A clouds ability to reflect light, is the reason sunrises and sunsets are deemed beautiful, but more importantly, it’s free and anyone, anywhere can admire their beauty regardless of wealth, social status or country. You don’t need a visa, you don’t need a ticket or entry to a stadium. Clouds represent freedom and in a world constrained by money and borders, clouds are everything the world is not.
The Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh understood clouds. He is renowned for his use of colour in landscapes, however, what is often overlooked and barely mentioned, is his ability to capture clouds. From fluffy cumulous clouds, to drab stratus clouds, in the 1800’s he recognised that clouds were different and presented them in their blue-grey, off-white, and green-grey glory.
I first became fascinated with clouds whilst on a road trip, from Sydney to Dubbo and thinking ‘there must be some way to tell the weather from the clouds’, As if they held secrets of the future; a portal in space and time.
A few months later I discovered the book, The Cloudspotter’s Guide (along with the Cloud Appreciation Society) which explained the different categories of clouds and how they formed. It was scientifically accurate, but easy to understand, written by a fellow ‘cloudologist,’ Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Officially a meteorologist studies weather, but for a cloud enthusiast I prefer the term cloudologist.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide answered many questions and I found myself looking upwards, at every opportunity to try and recognise different clouds, much like a bird watcher or trainspotter seeks out different catagories to tick off.
Once I’d read the book, I found myself playing the role of tour guide to a friend from America, Jennifer. Showing-off the sights of Sydney, I was rambling on about what was going to happen that afternoon with the weather; based on the cumulonimbus clouds forming out west. Sure enough at 3:00pm there was a huge storm, and within 20 minutes it was back to sunshine and blue skies. My friend was both amazed and curious how I managed to predict the weather. It wasn’t so much as predicting the weather as understanding clouds.
(That same trip, I also managed to ‘call the sharks on Green Island,’ but that’s a whole other story.)
Cumulonimbus clouds are huge, billowing, rising clouds. They form in hot, humid weather (hence why they are common in the tropics) and often reach breaking point, resulting in a short, heavy downpour, usually associated with monsoonal rains.
Photographing clouds is unique because rarely is it possible to capture the same cloud, twice. Sure there’s regular cloud formations: cirrus, lenticular, mama, and morning glory and so on that can be photographed, but there’s subtle nuances with every cloud – wispy tails, elongated fingers and puffy balls that vary in colour, texture and size.
Wind can change a cloud shape, or make them disappear in minutes. Add sunrise or sunset, and the colours can alter a clouds appearance dramatically, meaning a single cloud in whatever shade of colour you currently see it, can last less than thirty seconds. Imagine you have mere seconds to capture a moment, that will never again be the same. That’s what cloud photography is, every day.
Did you know, clouds appear darker when they are denser, because less light travels through them. The same cloud can have white, pink and charcoal colorings depending on the angle of the sun.
Mountains, forests, lakes, volcanos, and the ocean all impact how clouds are formed and how they act. The cloud phenomenon known as the “morning glory cloud” happens once a year in the Gulf of Carpenteria, in-between Queensland and the Northern Territory. Cloudspotters come from all over the world and camp out, or jet off in gliders, hoping to catch a glimpse of this spectacle. It resembles long, thin spaghetti tubes rolling across the sky.
Even storm clouds vary across neighboring countries. In Wellington, New Zealand, it’s often windy and has a direct line of sight with Antarctica so clouds are cold and fast moving. In the following image; a southerly storm batters against the cliffs of Wellington, and the clouds seem to rise up, out of the ocean.
The following clouds are known as mama. They occur during highly turbulent and unstable weather. Minutes after taking this photo, a huge thunder storm with heavy rain and lightening occurred over the Blue Mountains, in Western Sydney.
Let’s not forget, mist and fog, my favorite type of weather; it’s like the clouds came down from the heavens to say hello, and to give you a soft hug. To the un-trained eye, a foggy day has nothing to offer or look at, but what I see is the ultimate blank canvas. Everything looks magical in fog. A lamppost, a tree, a leaf, a road disappearing into nothingness suddenly becomes a metaphor for marriage or love.
I’ve written an entire post about The Blue Mountains in Mist, as there’s so many photo opportunities; it practically writes itself. Wentworth Falls Lake in mist, resembles a far-forgotten world where you’d expect to find cannibals and dinosaurs.
People often rave about days filled with blue skies and sunshine but without clouds, sunsets would be less dramatic. Think of all the artwork, poetry, love stories, marriage proposals and songs that would not exist if clouds had not been around to enhance each and every sunset (and sunrise).
Clouds can’t be summed up into a word or phrase. There are some cloud formations that simply can’t be described, only witnessed. They’re peaceful, free to look at, bring much needed water, can’t be caged, harnessed or reaped for profit. They bring shade from the sun, respite from the summer heat and simply; they’re the last piece of untamed wildness, they’re the doorway to sanctity. Appreciate them, in all their glory.
> Photography challenge: Take a photo of a cloud, everyday for a week. See if that alters your appreciation of clouds.
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