Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dramatic Weather Photography

Should we turn back?” a workshop participant asks between breaths.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Dramatic Weather Photography


Rain is probably the biggest reason photographers stay inside, but can be one of the most compelling times to photograph. My favorite places to shoot in the rain are cities. Water on streets, cars and buildings transforms everyday objects into shining pieces of urban art. Neon is reflected in the water, reflections pop up where there was none before and bright colorful umbrellas erupt in the streets. Even better, you can find lots of covered sidewalks and awnings on storefronts to photograph beneath. Try to find high perspectives to shoot down on pedestrians carrying umbrellas. This angle reveals interesting patterns along the streets.

In national parks, rain can form reflection pools to photograph. Sometimes days after a big shower small pools will still exist, especially on sandstone in the desert. Streams and rivers take on a new appearance after rain. I was in Arches National Park after a big rainstorm and found interesting waterfalls with red water cascading down the slick rock. The heavy rain had washed the red soil into the streams, creating this unique color.

With rain come clouds, sometimes thunderstorms, which can result in the most dramatic atmospheric conditions you’ll encounter. Towering, dark cumulonimbus clouds always add drama and tension to a landscape.

The big issue with shooting in the rain is staying dry. Many cameras are well sealed against moisture, but why push it? There are numerous rain covers on the market to keep your camera dry. I prefer the simple covers that pack small so I always have one with me. I use a clear lens-protection filter like a UV haze filter to protect the front of my lens in rainstorms.


I also use an umbrella to shield me from the rain. Sometimes I’ll clamp the umbrella to a light stand or tripod to hold it in place and shoot underneath it. An umbrella also creates a handy shelter to change flash cards. I use Gepe flash card cases that are waterproof and Lowepro camera bags that have rain covers. If I’m going to be in the same place for a while, I sometimes even set up a tent to stay dry. Tents are very convenient—all your gear stays dry—but are only practical when shooting in one spot. If your camera gets really wet, make sure to wipe it off with a dry cloth.

When shooting in the rain, experiment with shutter speeds and focal lengths. Rain can be stopped in midair and really add drama to a shot; it just depends on how hard it’s raining. Using a telephoto lens will compress the scene and enhance the raindrops in the frame. Shoot at fast shutter speeds to freeze the droplets, or try slower speeds to add some motion to the rain. If you shoot really slow, rain will look like haze in your image.


After living in Alaska for 10 years, my image files are loaded with snow shots. Snow is fun to photograph, and adds emotion and atmosphere to an image. As with rain, the goal is to avoid getting your gear wet. If it’s really cold outside and snow is fairly dry, you can shoot without worrying about your gear getting wet. Just blow or brush the snow off your camera. In wet snow, use techniques similar to photographing in the rain: rain covers, front filters, umbrellas and waterproof bags.
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