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Monday, December 15, 2008

Five Ways To Shoot Good Photos in Bad Weather - 12/15/08

Change your Tactics With the Weather to Get Great Pictures.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

You’ve got a day of outdoor shooting planned, and you’ve been looking forward to it for a while. Then on the morning of the big day there’s bad news: the weather isn’t cooperating. You were hoping for a sunny day of comfortable hiking and photographing. Now you’re faced with a dreary day, or a rainy day, or a windy day, or any number of other less-than-ideal days that Mother Nature has a knack for throwing your way when you’re not ready. So now what?

A lesser photographer may just say forget it and stay inside cleaning the gear, organizing the camera bag or just curling up for a nap. But you’re a dedicated photographer, and you’ve been looking forward to this day. No lousy weather is going to stand between you and a great shot. Go out anyway! Now you have an opportunity lesser photographers don’t: you can shoot in the interesting conditions that the weather has delivered just for you.

1. Overcast. If you’ve planned a day of autumn landscape photography you probably anticipated sunny skies and vibrant colored leaves. So on days when the weather’s dreary you’ve got to adjust your thinking. Realize that an overcast sky is often ideal for “quiet” landscape photographs.

Soft light means the skies and vistas may not be quite as bold, so focus in on the details and see what you can find. Look for downed leaves or detailed patterns in nature. In summer months, look to highlight large swaths of vegetation that are rendered nearly shadowless thanks to the flat sky. With the lower-contrast effects of shooting on a hazy day, shadows won’t be so bold and contrasty so you can see more details than normal. Graphic shadow-oriented compositions will be much harder to find today, but compositions that are geared toward softer, calmer effects are bound to work better on cloudy days. Start searching with that in mind.

2. Rain. Once you’ve taken care of protecting yourself and your gear from the water, imagine the possibilities that an atmosphere full of fast-moving water drops can add to your shots. Look for locations that will allow you to set up under some sort of protection—be it a dense tree canopy or even a building’s overhang—and try to shoot toward the light source. Backlit raindrops are a natural hit, but the typically hazy conditions of rainy days make them that much more of a challenge to find. If you see an opportunity—sun clearing after a shower, for example—make the most of that quickly changing dramatic light. And don’t forget about the optical and reflective qualities of water. Close-ups of droplets create amazing patterns, and they act like little lenses themselves. Wet leaves and rocks are bound to provide a different look than the typical detail shot on a drier day. Remember that water’s surface “sees” everything via reflection, so use that to your advantage.

3. Fog. Somewhere between cloudy and rainy exists a weather effect that, though uncomfortable, is actually great for photographers. It’s fog, and it’s terrific because it’s one of the most photographable types of weather you can find. Think of the movies: fog is always used to set a mood. A misty valley at dusk, or the fog rising off a lake in the morning… Fog makes for great photographs because it really showcases the light. Look for backlighting again, as you might with rain, and look for opportunities to show fog on a grand scale. It’s often found in low-lying areas, and it happens when the air is colder than the ground (or water). Fog is weather made tangible. Enjoy the opportunity.

4. Wind.
Whether the weather is cloudy or sunny, wind can happen any time. It’s a great opportunity for photographers to demonstrate time and motion in a single image. Imagine the motion blurs that happen with slow shutter speeds when photographing moving water, like the waterfall photographs we’ve all seen time and again. Wind can create that same effect with trees or leaves or grasses or clouds. Wind creates the opportunity to show motion in contrast to stationary objects in the landscape—say, a boulder or mountain that remains stationary and therefore sharp, while blowing trees or grasses create dramatic moving blurs. Obviously it’s crucial to keep the camera locked down on a tripod, and depending on how windy the day is that can be easier said than done. Experiment with everything from abstract blurs to subtle motion in everything from grand scenics to detail shots.

5. Snow. Readers in Hawaii may have a hard time with this one, but readers in Minnesota probably don’t feel too bad for them. Those Upper Midwesterners (and mountain dwellers, New Englanders and Canadians) have an advantage when photographing snow. The amazing thing about a fresh snowfall is the way it blankets everything perfectly. Untouched snow symbolized cleanliness and pristine perfection, and for good reason. At sunrise after a snowy night, photographers are greeted with photographs everywhere they turn. Sweeping scenics are great for showing the perfect simplicity of a blanket of snow. Close-ups of snow-covered branches are an easy way to highlight details poking up through the white. And speaking of white, what other opportunity do you have for such graphically clean monotone compositions? So play it up. Look for one item of bright color to contrast with all that snow, or look for subtle variations in the tones of white and gray all around. Snow makes almost any photograph more interesting, and should be seen as a photographic gift from Mother Nature. It’s anything but a detriment.


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