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Winter stratus

Frost covers birch catkins at Ministik Lake Sanctuary near Edmonton, Alberta

Branch­es and catkins against a flat win­ter sky

In cen­tral Alber­ta the cold snap is over, and a pro­longed case of the “win­ter-stra­tus” has set in — stra­tus clouds, that is. These are low, fea­ture­less clouds and in win­ter, when there isn’t much mois­ture, they are gen­er­al­ly light grey to near­ly white. Some­times, like yes­ter­day after­noon, they’ll lift a lit­tle to where you might call them alto­stra­tus, and you’re more like­ly to catch a lit­tle break for the sun to peak through. These are prob­a­bly the most com­mon clouds (stra­tus and alto­stra­tus) over Edmon­ton dur­ing the win­ter when there’s not enough solar ener­gy to build a decent cumu­lus cloud. (I think I may be let­ting the cloud-watch­er nerd in me show a lit­tle here).

Pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly speak­ing, stra­tus clouds make the light per­fect­ly flat and even, which can be both a curse and a bless­ing. Gen­er­al­ly, the con­trast of side light and shad­ows makes for more dra­mat­ic images than the flat light under a stra­tus ceil­ing, but I find that some­times detail-ori­ent­ed com­po­si­tions ben­e­fit from the “huge soft­box in the sky” effect. I enjoy the chal­lenge of find­ing these pho­tographs on days that would nor­mal­ly be con­sid­ered pho­to­graph­ic busts.

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