Shooting in the great outdoors can be a challenging, yet rewarding creative endeavor. No matter the genre of photography—portraits, lifestyle, landscapes, etc.—working amidst the elements can be as labor-intensive as setting up an entire studio shoot, but in a totally different way. Photographers working outdoors are up against a great many things that have the potential to make or break their final images, yet none of those things can be controlled.
I recall days when I had scheduled beach portraits for the Golden Hour and all day I was fixated on the weather. Rarely would I have to reschedule, being in Southern California, but there were times when an unexpected thick blanket of fog would roll in 15 minutes before my clients arrived. We call that June Gloom, and on occasion, that gloom wouldn’t just soften the light, it would totally swallow up the sun, leaving me no recourse but to reschedule.
Still, there’s a beauty and mystery in the uniqueness of everyday weather. Even in a location that boasts temperate weather year-round, no two days ever look exactly the same. I often wonder if my love affair with the sky, which I’ll admit borders on obsession, is a by-product of me living and shooting in a place that doesn’t see much by way of extreme swings in weather. When we do get billowy clouds, big rain puddles or picturesque pink sunrises, I’m the first one to notice.
It’s even more challenging for photographers in less temperate climates, where weather has much more of an impact on their photographic work. There are many places that battle freezing temperatures, gray, wet conditions, relentless heat or even sunlight that only lasts for a fraction of what one may consider a “normal” day. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see through those photographers’ lenses, thanks to photo-sharing sites and apps like Flickr and Instagram. Watching the wonderful world of weather, without actually being in it myself, has been a curious and fascinating study. It amazes me how some photographers seem to have the power not only to manage extreme conditions, but to seemingly harness the weather to enhance their work.
Snow. One such photographer is Tara Romasanta (tararomasanta.com). A mere two years into living in Alaska and she shoots with a mastery that makes it appear she has been there her whole life. Tara shares, “Shooting in snow is nothing short of magical. Without a doubt, snow makes everything prettier. Brown winters and bare trees aren’t my favorite. Snow is like the frosting on a cake.” Her white, wintery shots give you the feeling that you’re witnessing something very magical. As for the challenges that reflective white snow can cause, Tara says, “Very occasionally, I’ll use exposure compensation to add a little extra light if I’m shooting somewhere especially overcast or shaded so the scene doesn’t read overly gray. On the other light extreme, I’ve found myself more able to shoot in direct light when there’s snow on the ground, because a blanket of snow acts as a fill card.” Even beyond the light, the temperature brings its own issues. But it’s obvious Tara doesn’t really mind being cold to get a great shot if her clients don’t.
Wind. Although perhaps not as harsh, wind can be much more unpredictable and harder to tame. I’ve found wind to be the most challenging of elements because of its wild nature. Dealing with shifting gusts while you’re shooting can make for a very chaotic experience for photographer and subject alike. Yet, when I look at images captured by Polly Alderton (dollyandfife.com), I’m not only intrigued by the wind, I’m drawn to it. I don’t know how she does it, but Polly’s images make it seem like she has the power of the wind at her command. To that, the UK-based photographer responds, “For me, those heavy blowy days are the most wonderful to be in. I enjoy so much that such physical and visceral experiences can feel transcendent when presented as a still image. In all of my images, it’s important to me that I feel.” Although the main subjects of her portraits are usually children, somehow it feels that the wind itself holds equal importance in the frame. It’s how Polly coaxes out a relationship between the two that’s so compelling.
Rain. The idea of capturing a curious rapport between the subject and the weather isn’t foreign to Tytia Habing (tytiahabing.com), either. Using the entire climate spectrum of her hometown in Illinois to her advantage, looking at her work, you’re convinced that she not only works with the seasons, she celebrates them. Tytia muses, “Rain presents a unique opportunity to capture everyday surroundings a little differently. There will be moody skies, glistening foliage, streaming water and reflections galore. I love to take advantage of this.” Because it’s natural to want to avoid water when working with expensive equipment, it seems that much more contrary to go out and chase it, but Tytia has a whole storm ritual. “Before the rain hits, I’ll race outside to photograph the coming storm. The play of light and shadow among the clouds is amazing before, during and after storms. If possible, I’ll talk someone into going out into the rain to get a few shots. If not that, playing in the water after a storm is just as good. Water-glistening skin is a dream to shoot, and combining that with amazing light, well, it’s a dream.” I’m convinced it’s that kind of enthusiasm that helps make her work shine, in spite of gray, wet weather.
Sun. Not everyone would consider the sun a photographic obstacle, but it certainly can be. Although photography is all about the light, there’s such a thing as too much of it. Maybe it’s the mere location of the sun at the time of the shoot that’s the problem, the shadow it casts or even the temperature that just makes shooting in the sun a challenge. Whatever the case, there are some photographers who artfully incorporate the sun in a way that’s not only deliberate, but
also unique. Kim Hall (instagram.com/runnerkimhall), a master at light-filled creative imagery, is one of them. Of her illuminating work, she says, “I find myself drawn to the fading light of the day, that luminous time so aptly called ‘Golden Hour.’ I especially love days where the skies are decorated with clouds, loving them for the painterly effect they have on the sky, like an artist has taken a big brush and softened all the hard edges and left everything feeling so delicate and gentle.” As a photographer, it’s not unusual to be drawn to the Golden Hour, but Kim, based in California, uses the low proximity of the sun to her greatest advantage, showcasing it as more than a source of light, but as an integral, almost tangible part of the image.
Whatever the conditions you find yourself working in, it’s clear your photography not only can survive, but thrive, by using Mother Nature’s wonders of weather to their greatest advantage.
TRACEY CLARK is the founder of Shutter Sisters, a collaborative photo blog and thriving community of female photo enthusiasts, shuttersisters.com. Learn more about Tracey and her work at traceyclark.com.