Friday Foto Talk: Shoot in Any Weather   19 comments

A blustery cold winter morning at Joshua Tree National Park, California gave me the opportunity to shoot something I’ve always loved to see: spindrift in bright sunlight.

Occasionally I see someone post on Facebook or mention elsewhere that they are anxious for the weather to cooperate so that they can get out with their cameras.  They’ll say they are inside playing in Photoshop because the weather is keeping them from shooting, or that they’re looking forward to getting out when the weather finally improves this weekend.

The message for this post is very simple.  Quit making excuses and get out there!  Short of hurricanes, tornados, and other dangerous situations, there is really no weather that you can’t handle with clothing and gear.  Check out my series on winter photography for tips on how to protect yourself and your gear.

It’s springtime now in the northern hemisphere, and that means quickly changing weather.  So why not go out to see what happens?  Maybe it will clear up just before sunset, rewarding you for your persistence.  But even if it stays weathery (or even gets worse), don’t worry!  The most important thing to remember is that there’s really no kind of weather that doesn’t offer at least a few good photographic possibilities.  Here are some examples:

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.  It was raining pretty heavily but I walked to a high lookout anyway, just in case.  Grain added during processing.

  • Rainy & Foggy.  Especially when paired with fog or low clouds hugging hillsides, rainy weather can be the perfect time to shoot mood-filled landscapes.  And if it suddenly clears, hello rainbow!  Rain also offers good people shooting.  With typically bright raincoats and umbrellas, the flat light of cloud-cover can really bring out those colors.  Rainy conditions can also favor flowers and other small colorful close-ups.  Droplets on flowers and other vegetation look great in macro photos.


When you're in a Costa rican cloud forest, and it's raining, these are the kinds of shots that jump out.

When you’re in a Costa Rican cloud forest and it’s raining, these are the kinds of images that jump out.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

  • Snowy & Cold.  New-fallen snow glistens like an older snow-cover never does.  And when the wind starts playing with snow magical things tend to happen (as in the image at top).  It can certainly be a challenge to deal with the contrasts of a snowy scene.  All that white, when it fills most of the viewfinder, demands that you are careful with exposure (your camera’s light meter is ‘fooled’ into underexposing).  The cold air of winter offers a clarity that can give your landscapes a sense of depth, and make your backgrounds stand out better.
The drive out to this spot in an ice storm was not fun but how else are you going to see and shoot unique light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The drive out to this spot during an ice storm was a little sketchy, but how else are you going to see and shoot unique skies and light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Windy.  I’ve been shooting in some wind in the desert lately and have posted a few of those.  The nice part about wind is that it will pick up sand and other loose materials and blow them around, creating moody effects.  Of course windy conditions present some challenges.  You need to think about camera stability; decide if a tripod is better than being buffeted while you’re holding the camera.  As long as you weight it down by hanging a heavy bag from the center post, a tripod will work well in wind when exposures are too long for hand-held shots.  And don’t try to change lenses out in the wind, unless you don’t want to have your camera’s sensor & interior cleaned afterward.
Owen's Valley, California in a sandstorm.

Owen’s Valley, California in a sandstorm.

  • Clear Blue Skies.  This is the bane of every landscape photographer.  It means the sun’s light isn’t really filtered and reflected while it’s still in the sky, before it gets to your subject.  Thus most photographers think the light is poor in times of clear weather.  While it’s easier to get a great landscape image when there are clouds in the sky, that doesn’t mean great shots aren’t possible.  Subjects have to be unusually strong when under bluebird skies, and there is a tight window to shoot in when the sun is very near the horizon.
Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

  • More Clear Days:  Clear skies are also decent times to shoot close-ups and macros.  A portable diffusing panel helps out, or you can shoot when the sun is very low.  For similar reasons people pictures can turn out very nice in clear sunny weather.  You need to find shade or again shoot when the sun is low.  Placing your subjects at the edge of the shade and near broad reflective ground surfaces helps to give beautiful illumination backed by darker backgrounds.
I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

  •  And Clear Nights:  When it’s clear, some subjects (architecture being a great example) look very good at the so-called blue hour.  That’s well after sunset but before it gets dark and the sky loses all of its blue color.  If you want to shoot a star-filled sky, clear and moonless is the time to do it.  I actually like a partial moon to help illuminate the subject or foreground.  I also like some clouds in my starscapes and don’t care too much about the Milky Way.  But I’m in the minority there.
A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

I think you can see that almost any conceivable weather is good for photography.  The trick is to think about all the types of pictures you may want, not just the one or two that you happen to desire at a given time.  If you have this mindset, then no matter what the weather you’re likely to find just the right kinds of pictures to shoot.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

19 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Shoot in Any Weather

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  1. Reblogged this on chithankalai.

  2. That’s what I like about you – you practice what you teach!

  3. Great post though sometimes all too tempting to ignore. It’s always worthwhile to be reminded and some great points. Some great images too.

    One partial exception: There’s a place in the Sudan where the temperature is often between 50°C and 60° (120°F to 140°F), the hottest place on Earth and it’s a long walk in and out. There would be great photographs of both the landscape and the heat adapted locals but I don’t know how well I’d cope.

    A camera rain cover can be useful to allow you to keep shooting in inclement situations (rain or dust).

    I use mainly primes and I change lenses in most situations, sheltering the camera if necessary. A light bag could be useful for dusty windy situations, in other words a transparent dark bag. I’m not aware of any being available but the easiest way would be to pick up a dark bag on EBay (search “film changing bag”), cut a viewing hole in it and glue a plastic sheet over the top. Another solution might be a larger camera cover than you need and a way of sealing up the hole for the lens.

    (I’ve bookmarked your series on cold weather photography for the next time it applies, though my next trip is in the tropics).

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Murray. I have changed lenses in wind of course, but out in the dunes when it’s windy or in serious blowing dust I avoid it (I have a mix of primes and zooms). I’ve tried those ways you mentioned, though not with that film-changing bag. I have a lightweight bag that seals, use it for bringing camera in from the cold. I haven’t’ tried it for lens changing but it should work with a little practice. The material is light enough to manipulate camera and lens from the outside, though it’s not see-through. I think they sell similar dry bags that are transparent. Where in the tropics? It’s been a long time since I’ve been south of the Tropic of Cancer.

      • Mexico City for a couple of days, five days near Flores in Northern Guatemala, staying on private land near an ancient Mayan city, Cancun overnight, Cuba for ten days, mostly on a Photographic Tour, Santo Domingo for two days, St Maarten for two days, Antigua for three days, Montserrat for three days, Jamaica for three days and LA and Salton Sea for probably seven. One days travelling time between each.

        • Wow that’s going to be fun! If this is your first time in the Peten you’ll be impressed with the chance for real adventures in that region, and the jungle is filled with wildlife! Sounds like a great trip! Joshua Tree is right next to Salton Sea. It would be tempting for me to head up to Death Valley, about 4 1/2 hours drive from either L.A. or J-Tree/Salton Sea. But you’d need at least a few days to do it justice. Have fun!

        • I’m taking a Fuji system partly because I don’t think I’d be able to bluff my Nikon system through carry-on limitations for small Caribbean planes. I’m expecting to have an X-Pro2 and a 100-400mm for wildlife. I’d thought about Joshua Tree but not about Death Valley. I’ll have to contemplate that. Thanks for the response.

        • I contemplated Death Valley and I can see that would be a wonderful place to spend some time but I decided against it this time at least because it would cost me over $1,000 to change the flight back and it’s probably still a bit too hot in early October.

          For the Peten, would it be worthwhile to spend a few hundred dollars extra and get a 4wd rather than a small car? If it’s an answerable question. I’m also not sure whether we’ll just be going on tours organised by locals or how much time we’d be exploring on our own and may find it useful.

        • It’s warm in October but not too bad. It’s a dry heat as they say! That’s a bummer about the change fee. Still think about it as a quick hit, though it would involve quite a bit of driving round-trip.

          I visited the Peten without a vehicle, doing Tikal and hitchhiking a bit to a few other places. I’d love to do the trip to El Mirador. I believe you have to do that as a guided thing; it’s multiple days and you walk with horses carrying your luggage. I don’t think a 4WD would be worth the extra cost unless you really want to dive deep. But on a 1st trip there’s definitely enough to see off of good roads. Yaxha for example is not far from El Remate (where I’d stay for Tikal since it’s much closer than Flores and you can get there 1st thing in the morning). If you’re traveling to the Peten from the south there is a fantastic farmstay, Finca Ixobel. Highly recommended. It’s off the main highway (13).

        • OK, thanks. Ordinary car it is, then.

          Too late for accommodation advice. I’ve already booked at Ecolodge El Sombrero which is in the jungle on the other side of the lagoon from Yaxha.

          I’m intending to splurge for El Mirador – day trip by helicopter.

  4. These are great lessons that I have been reminded of time and time again. Last weekend we drove two and a half hours to shoot in Goldfield NV, a place I had heard of but had never visited. When we got there the cloud cover was disheartening. The light was flat and uninspiring. I kept saying I’d have to come back one day because it was perfect for what I like to shoot. But since we were there, we decided to explore and just before golden hour the clouds parted and the lighting was superb. Funny thing, though. My favorite images were from earlier in the day. In flat lighting!

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