Charles Piazzi Smyth



Charles Piazzi Smyth

Cloud Photography

Piazzi Smyth designed a special camera that produced his cloud negatives on small glass plates.  This camera won a Medal in the Edinburgh Photographic Society Exhibition, 1876.

The following details of Piazzi Smyth's cloud photography have been taken from the book The Peripatetic Astronomer:

With acknowledgement to Storm Dunlop for advising me of this publication

Early Cloud Photography


"Piazzi Smyth's rainband work signifies an early attempt to add a quantitative element to the indefinite science of meteorology and as such deserves recognition."

"With the same purpose, he carried out experiments in cloud photography, a field into which he was the very first to venture.  He believed that photographs of different cloud formations were greatly superior to verbal descriptions, and that the study of systematic records of these could not fail to provide a scientific basis for weather forecasting."


[The Peripatetic Astronomer:  Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1988:  p.187]

500 Photographs


"Piazzi Smyth's returned to his cloud photography in his old age by which time, almost 20 years later, the scientific fraternity had taken up the same techniques of cloud observation."

[The Peripatetic Astronomer:  Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1988:  p.187]

"[Piazzi Smyth] assisted by his amanuensis Mr Close, obtained at Clova, over a period of three years more than 500 photographs of cloud formations on three-inch square glass plates."

"Enlarged prints of 144 of these, illustrating every type of cloud formation, each accompanied by details of date, time and weather conditions, were assembled in three large albums which, with printed introductions, were presented to the Royal Society in 1897;  another set of photographs and the original negatives went to the Royal Society of Edinburgh"

[The Peripatetic Astronomer:  Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1988:  pp.252-3]


Charles Piazzi Smyth

Cloud Photography

Science or Art?

Below is a further extract taken from the book:

 The Peripatetic Astronomer:

Piazzi Smyth's views in Retirement

"The truth is that in the preparation of these beautiful photographs the artist had taken over from the scientist.  Piazzi Smyth, now an old man, looked on his cloud forms as fleeting objects of beauty rather than as examples of natural phenomena."

"He called them 'Cloud forms that have been:  to the Glory of God their Creator and the wonderment of learned men', and reflected on how each cloud, and each raindrop within each cloud, came about through the immutable laws of physics;  yet no two clouds were exactly the same because the same identical circumstances never recur."

"All his life he loved looking at the sky and had recorded hundreds of skyscapes, sunsets, illuminated clouds, storms  -  with endless variety of colours and combinations of shapes."

"The photographs could capture only some of the many forms while most had gone unrecorded and unseen.   [He regretted]  'No one of them ever came back and showed its beauties again!  Alas!  Alas!, how many such opportunities have I in the long life allowed me, and the varied course of it granted, lazily and culpably lost."

[The Peripatetic Astronomer:  Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1988:  pp.252-3]




Charles Piazzi Smyth  -  More Pages

BACKGROUND:       Photographer        Family         Pyramids        Astronomy   

                               Time ball         Cloud Photography      1876 EPS Exhibition

PYRAMIDS LECTURE:    page 1    page 2    page 3    page 4