It’s not just photographers who are fixated with the weather – it’s the subject of conversations between complete strangers, it influences our mood and hundreds of songs have been written about it. But of course photographers more than any other group have an obsession with it – particularly those of us who indulge our passion in the great outdoors.
The weather I like best gives me rain soaked pavements, moisture laden clouds, bursts of sunshine through a threatening sky, a landscape cloaked in fog & mist or blanketed in a covering of snow – these are the atmospheric conditions I pray for. They bring drama and emotion – key elements in any successful photograph. And they give our photographs impact – not least because very few ‘normal’ people venture out in such conditions and even fewer would dream of taking a photograph. For this requires dedication, commitment and probably a small dose of insanity! But doing so ensures that the resulting images stand out from the crowd. I’m frequently reminded by my experiences in the landscape that if I haven’t got wet (and quite often cold as well) then I probably haven’t got a decent photograph.
Successful outdoor photography in inclement weather does require a particular mindset if we are to make the most of the photographic possibilities on offer. I refuse to think of ‘bad’ weather as a problem but more a creator of photographic opportunities.
The trick is to successfully match choice of subject matter & technique with the prevailing conditions (see Box Out 1) or to even make the weather the subject of our photography (see Box Out 3). On wet or overcast & cloudy days I’ll head to woodland or seek out water in the form of waterfalls, rivers and lakes to provide a much needed highlight. I’ll also look for close up shots of details such as tree bark, lichen on rocks or raindrops on leaves. I’ve even sat in my car and taken photographs through a rain drenched windscreen to get impressionistic images that Monet would have been proud of.
When the light is directional with some cloud cover or full of storm clouds and potentially more dramatic I’ll look for wide open vistas where dappled light & shade can work their magic to enhance the textures, shapes and patterns of an open landscape.
And the sky itself can make an interesting subject in its own right. I’m an avid sky watcher and frequently point my camera towards the heavens either excluding the land completely for a semi-abstract result or keeping it to a bare minimum to anchor the bottom of the frame.
I’ll even try to work on those dreaded blue sky days although I’m more likely to be drawn to the urban rather than the rural landscape. For here I can make the most of man made bright colours, the graphic shapes of modern buildings and the patterns created by dramatic shadows.
The urban landscape is also a great place to go in the rain – not least because there is the chance to find some shelter from the elements whilst at the same time continuing to take photographs. Subjects can include reflections in puddles, minimalist splashes of colour (clothing, umbrellas, traffic signs and lights) in an otherwise grey & drab environment. In towns and cities some great candid shots can also be had of commuters & shoppers coping with the wet conditions; or head to the local park at the weekend to get shots of people braving the weather to take part in various sporting activities such as rugby, football, cycling & jogging.
If you’ll pardon the pun, wet weather shouldn’t put a dampener on our photography. It is important however to ensure that expensive camera gear is adequately protected in inclement weather (see Box Out 2). A UV filter on the front of the lens will protect it from damage and the filter can be dried regularly with a cloth to keep it free of moisture. A lens hood will also help to keep the filter free from image distorting water droplets. And a plastic bag over the camera (or even a specialist rain cover if you want to spend a small amount) will ensure that the cameras electronics remain as protected as possible. In really heavy rain or snow I carry my gear in a bag with a waterproof cover.
And it’s not only equipment that needs protecting – an uncomfortable photographer will not be fully concentrated on the task in hand. In cold weather several layers of light, windproof clothing on top of a thermal vest will keep out the chill and when topped with a waterproof coat even the rain won’t be a distraction. On bright, sunny days, particularly for those like myself who are follically challenged, some form of head protection (hat or sunscreen) is essential. Combined with a regular intake of water the potential for sunstroke will be minimised (and having suffered it once I can safely say it’s not an experience to be recommended!).
Come rain or shine we should always be prepared to make the most of the photographic opportunities the weather presents. If we wait for ‘ideal’ conditions we could remain image less for a very long time. Its much better to get out there regardless – in the long run the experience of getting great images no matter what Mother Nature throws at us will make us better (even if sometimes, wetter) photographers.
|Box Out 1 – Learning to ‘Read’ the Weather
Planning is important so check out the weather forecasts on TV, radio and the internet. It helps to be able to interpret what you are seeing and hearing.
For example, talk of high pressure in the summer can mean hot days with hazy sunshine (not great for landscape photography) whereas in the winter it can mean clear skies, bright sunshine and cold days. Low pressure on the other hand can often mean we’ll have wet days but if the forecast contains words like ‘changeable’ or ‘unsettled’ then this could herald some spectacular atmospheric conditions and dramatic lighting (time to pack that camera gear, a waterproof and get out there!).
Also consider the direction of the weather front. In the UK a front moving in from the west usually means we’ll have milder but wetter weather; but from the east you can normally expect drier & colder conditions (particularly if the winds are blowing in from the north east and bringing air from the arctic). Get to know the weather patterns in your part of the world.
Generally the wind tends to drop at night making for great reflections in water at dusk and dawn. But if its forecast that wind will strengthen overnight then there’s a good chance you’ll rise to rain but with the possibility that it’ll blow over during the day.
Useful forecasting websites: –
BBC Weather – http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather
The Met Office – www.metoffice.gov.uk
Metcheck – www.metcheck.com
Yr – www.yr.no/?spr=eng (the Norwegian forecasting service that I’ve found to be very accurate for the UK, Europe and other parts of the world too)