Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Strange clouds

with 24 comments

My introduction to Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park on September 3rd was the clouds you see here, which were strange in the way they apparently cast shadows on the sky. Have you ever heard of or seen anything casting a shadow on the sky? I guess the air held enough water vapor or other particles to create a faint medium on which shadows could register, but my reaction was still that I was seeing shadows where I’m not supposed to be able to see any.

Because the area near the sun was so bright in comparison to everything else, I underexposed by three f/stops to keep from blowing out the highlights. As a result, the badlands hills across the bottom of the photograph appear in silhouette and make the overall image more abstract. That’s fine by me.

UPDATE: Les Cowley of Atmospheric Optics explained the scene this way: “The well defined clouds are casting their shadows onto a lower layer of haze or thin cloud. the lower cloud acts as a translucent screen and you view the shadows — and the upper cloud — through it.”

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 29, 2017 at 4:46 AM

24 Responses

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  1. The clouds have a dinosaur look about them which makes them very suitable cover for the dinosaur park.


    October 29, 2017 at 6:53 AM

    • You’re ahead of me (literally, as it’s 1:50 AM on Monday in NZ now) and in your imagination, which sees these clouds as having a dinosaur look. Now that you broach the subject of imagery, I might be able to see a flying bird or bat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2017 at 7:51 AM

  2. Very interesting and spooky effect….would have made a good Halloween posting!

    Marcia Levy

    October 29, 2017 at 8:42 AM

    • I could easily have held the post till Tuesday but it didn’t occur to me. A few minutes ago I watched the feature about the movie “Halloween” on CBS Sunday Morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2017 at 8:52 AM

    • I’ve found a couple of pumpkin-colored pictures to post on Halloween. Stay tuned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2017 at 9:55 AM

  3. Wow, wow, wow!


    October 29, 2017 at 1:03 PM

  4. Very striking. Something strange going on up there in the troposphere or whatever.

    Robert Parker

    October 29, 2017 at 1:42 PM

    • I suspect meteorologists can be specific about what was going on here. If I find out, I’ll post an update.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2017 at 4:58 PM

  5. Interesting pic…I fear it bodes ill…🙂


    October 29, 2017 at 5:42 PM

  6. This is a spectacular effect!


    October 29, 2017 at 7:38 PM

    • It is, and I was fortunate to see it. We’d gone to see the badlands and got this as a bonus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2017 at 7:55 PM

  7. This is a strange one. The sky shadow I’m most familiar with is the Belt of Venus, where the shadow of the earth is cast upon clear skies at dawn or dusk. When I went over to Atmospheric Optics, I discovered they have a whole section on rays and shadows, and this entry shows a couple of different shadows in the atmosphere. It even references “sunlit and shadowed air.”

    Still, the sun appears to be behind the shadows in the photo, and that just isn’t possible. Well, at least I don’t think it is. There are odd things out there. If you click on “mountain shadows” on the AO page, you’ll find another one: the tops of mountains appearing triangular, regardless of their real shape. I wonder if there’s an astronomical parallel to Mr. Smarty Plants somewhere?


    October 31, 2017 at 8:18 AM

    • You mean like Mr. Wise Sky?

      I forwarded the picture just now to AO, even though the owner of the site has a disclaimer that he’s not posting new photographs at the moment. I’m hoping he might still tell me what’s going on. I also forwarded a copy of the picture to the University of Texas. If I don’t find out from either of those places, I may try some more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2017 at 10:32 AM

  8. That’s a wow from me too .. 😃


    October 31, 2017 at 10:33 PM

  9. […] 1: Do you remember the recent view of clouds that I photographed in the Badlands of Alberta on September 3rd? (For variety I’ve included […]

  10. am here for a quick ‘all’s fine’ smoke signal, and there’s a new option for satellite internet that might work at the house.. if so, i’ll be able to catch up.

    read this offline then looked at the images last night at a friend’s house… i was surprised, as last week i also photographed really strange shadows in the atmosphere – these were when i took a flash night photo of the moon rising.. the tree and limbs in the foreground produced shadows, and like your image – the effect was really different….

    the explanation you added makes sense, and most likely that’s what happened here in ecuador as well.

    am using public wifi at a park so will close – but wanted to comment before logging off!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 13, 2017 at 3:32 PM

    • Hi, Lisa. What a coincidence that you also took some strange shadow photos. I see you haven’t posted any of those pictures yet but I look forward to them.

      Good luck with that satellite Internet service. At the same time, not being constantly connected has its advantages, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 13, 2017 at 3:58 PM

  11. […] heady panorama is from the morning of September 3rd at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, where strange cloud shadows in the sky had greeted us a couple of hours […]

  12. […] The last unusual clouds you saw here were from Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta on September 3 of last year. Two days ago when we headed out from home to run a few errands, the atypical combination of clouds overhead caught our attention. Rather than go back home for a real camera, lazy me pulled over and used an iPhone. […]

  13. […] posts about the place have shown strange cloud shadows in the sky and a panorama that includes a hoodoo with a head-like […]

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