Overcast Light

Armand Cabrera

An overcast day loses the direct light source of the sun and with it, most reflected light. When the sun is occluded by clouds or fog this leaves the scene with only ambient light or sky light. The difference is that this light is more neutral than on a sunny day when the color of this light is blue shifted from the sky color without clouds. In this type of lighting the objects have localized shadows and a tint from the cloud cover. Shadows tend to be warmer than they would be in full sunlight. The saying ‘cool light warm shadows’, applies here and can be used to great effect in this type of scene.


Color transitions are softer with subtle hue shifts and saturation shifts. Geometric planes are harder to discern. The direction for this light is top down as in most outdoor ambient light situations and the shadows have softer transitions. The lack of reflected light causes objects to darken in value toward their under planes continuously.

A full range of values is possible for overcast days but the light is shifted to the top planes and objects are dominated by local color with no strong light source to alter them. The light plane, upright plane and the shadow planes are closer together than they would be for objects in direct sunlight.

These kinds of days offer a longer period of time to paint from life because of the lack of a strong light source lessens the directional effect on shadows. More time allows for a more careful selection of the motif to maximize the pictures effectiveness as an overcast day painting.

8 thoughts on “Overcast Light

  1. Great post Armand! As a painter who focuses on more tonal elements I often prefer the overcast days.

  2. Interesting point! I'm from seattle where's it's overcast all the time, and yet I never nailed putting this type of lighting down on canvas.

  3. Adriana,
    I've painted up there a few times, its a great place to practice this type of painting.

  4. David,

    I'm with you, tonal paintings have a power to them that other types of paintings seem to lack.

  5. Beautiful artwork in this post and very helpful information – thank you! I also am in the western Washington area. I'm a huge fan of Lanford Monroe's work much of which is overcast, grey, and beautiful. Thanks Armand for all your work and for this blog!

  6. Thanks,

    I'm a fan of Lanfords work as well. She was such a great talent, very sad she passed away at a relatively young age.

  7. As always, wonderful painting and great information on painting.
    Like in this example, among others, and quote:
    "In this type of lighting the objects have localized shadows and a tint from the cloud cover". Knowing this it is less dificult to see what's in front of you because in this case you know what you are looking for 'ab initio'.
    It is always a pleasure visiting your site, Armand.

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