Dramatic Weather Photography

Should we turn back?” a workshop participant asks between breaths. “Those thunderheads look really nasty.”

“No way!” I reply. “Those clouds are going to make this day exciting. Just be ready to head down if you see lightning.”

We’re in the middle of an uphill slickrock slog to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. I’m teaching a photography workshop, and right about now my group is thinking I’m nuts. Turn around with towering dark clouds approaching and electricity in the air? Never! All I need to do is stand on a pinnacle with lightning flashing behind me and the Captain Ahab impression will be complete.

I can’t count the number of times questionable weather has kept me from venturing out on a shoot. It’s much easier to sit in a warm café and drink coffee, convincing yourself the weather is too nasty. And then the sun breaks through the clouds, illuminating a mountain peak in a shaft of golden light surrounded by purple storm clouds. Suddenly, the coffee doesn’t taste so good. You just missed the photo op of the century.

Not today in Arches. I need to show this group that perseverance is a good photographer attribute. We finally arrive at the overlook to Delicate Arch, sweaty and out of breath after speeding up the hill to beat the storm. Large water drops start to splatter on the sandy rock, and I get some disturbed looks from my group. Not only are they miserable, but now they’re soaked and miserable. I have my response all ready to go, “Well, we would never know what happened if we didn’t hike out here, and besides, this trip builds good karma for the next time.”

And right then an incredible rainbow bursts out over Delicate Arch. Even I can’t believe it. I’ve hiked to this arch countless times and seen some nice storm clouds, but never a rainbow right over the arch. The group is frantically shooting and laughing; no one can believe our luck. I’ll never see this again. Just as fast as the rainbow appears, it fades after a few minutes. The storm clouds start to build, and a light rain begins. But everyone in our group is happy—this shot made the trip. I get a lot of high fives on the trail as if I knew all along the rainbow was going to appear. You never know what the weather is going to do.

Bad weather is good weather in terms of photography. Snow, rain, fog and wind all offer a unique look to a familiar scene. Instead of seeing these environmental conditions as a problem, I approach them as an opportunity. The trick is learning how to photograph in these conditions comfortably and what techniques will help capture the unique weather you encounter. Following is a list of atmospheric conditions and tips to use photographing them. The next time you look out the window and see rain, don’t put your camera gear away—go out and shoot!

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