Cover photo by Simon Markhof.
As photographers, we only truly have control of very little when it comes to getting out into the field, especially when it comes to winter photography. You can do all of the preparation in the world but at the end of the day, you can’t dictate the weather. We all know that photography is suited for artists who can practice a great deal of patience and flexibility but as winter loving photographers, how do we cope when you’ve done the planning but the weather just doesn’t play ball?
Here are our top tips for taking great photos in bad weather.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. You can’t be a productive photographer if you can’t stay warm. Whether you know you’re heading out into dismal weather or getting caught in the middle of it by surprise, you should always be prepared for the weather to turn.
Keep our warm layers (such as merino wool) close to the skin with your insulating layers on top (like a cozy fleece) followed by a weatherproof top layer (like a rain jacket or waterproof winter jacket). We recommend waterproof pants and boots as well as a thermal hat and as always, a nice warm pair of photography gloves to give you access to your dials and the ability to change your lenses without losing all of your heat.
Imagine this: Doing your prep work, planning the timing perfectly and heading out for what you think is going to be an epic sunrise or sunset only to find lackluster light and a colorless scene. We’ve all been there. As annoying as it is, sometimes the weather just doesn’t want to corporate so the best thing to do is to alter your approach.
Bad weather is the perfect time to shoot low-key landscapes. You know the ones — scenes that are a little dark and not all that majestic on their own. A dark and ominous cloud can add just the right amount of drama you need to make the scene pop and stormy conditions help accentuate the harshness of mother nature. Add a bit of foreground and carefully compose your photo using a strong focal point. If you want to enhance the contrast in the moody skies even more, consider using a graduated Neutral Density (ND) filter.
Photo by Simon Markhof
When the weather turns sour, it’s likely that clouds will cover a good portion of whatever you’re trying to shoot and if the clouds are flat without much contrast, it can be difficult to compose a compelling photo. Instead of focusing on the sweeping landscape or glistening city skyline that may be covered in a blanket of cloud, shift your focus to something smaller and more granular. A solitary tree standing strong in the face of a blizzard, cold urban dwellers with wind-blown hair navigating the stormy city streets, a single drop of rain on a leaf. Whatever it is you’re photographing, try to look closely at what’s in the frame and don’t be afraid to go minimalist.
Photo by Todd Easterbrook.
Windblown leaves, falling snow, pouring rain. These stormy elements force the photographer to take special consideration of the shutter speed. A drop of rain can fall quite a ways in half of a second so having a slightly slower shutter speed might result in streaky rain or snow. To accurately freeze the scene, consider increasing your shutter speed which will get rid of those pesky rain drop tails.
On the other hand, sometimes a slow shutter speed is the way to go to get your desired effect. For example, if you’re trying to photograph a lightning bolt, you obviously won’t know when the lightning will strike so keep your shutter open for longer to increase your chances of catching the bolt. If you’re shooting the coast or other moving water, keep your shutter open for longer to get nice silky smooth water.
Don’t forget to use a story tripod when working with longer shutter speeds as any movement of the camera will result in a blurry photo. For a more in-depth explanation on shutter speed, click here.
Processing your photos in Lightroom or Photoshop can greatly enhance stormy and moody effects you might be aiming for in your photo. Play with darkening the photo, increasing the contrast and using the dodge and burn tools to draw attention to certain aspects of the photo. You can also use graduated or radial filters to change the look of the sky while keeping the foreground the same.
Storms can be a real pain when you’re out in the field but with a little creativity, you can use a storm to your advantage. With the rain comes numerous puddles and ponds. Try playing around with still puddles to capture a mirror reflection. For dark and bleak scenes, try adding a pop of bright yellow or red to give the photo a clear focal point.
If you’re not finding any pops of color, remember that editing the photo in black and white can greatly enhance a moody photo. This is a great trick for any photography done in bleak weather when the color tones are flat and the light isn’t popping very well.
Photo by Simon Markhof.
Photo by Todd Easterbrook.
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