Embracing the Weather with Photography: Part 2 - Digital Photography School

Embracing the Weather with Photography: Part 2

Previously we discussed how sunny, rainy, snowy and overcast weather can affect your scene, now we will look at how other forms can help and hinder your photography…

Cloudy Skies

Image by MorBCN

Many photographers are often thankfully for bright but cloudy skies, as that thin veil of cloud can diffuse the sun’s rays producing a perfect delicate and soft light – much like a softbox does. However on a windy day clouds can be blown across the sky in minutes and your perfect light could be gone as quickly as it arrived so you’ll be forced to work quickly and if you have limited patience you may be forced to restrict yourself to grabbing safety shots before getting creative.

For the landscape enthusiast this can often lend itself to the genre; for example a valley sewn together with patchwork-like fields can look radiant with dappled sunshine and spotted a few darkened cloud shapes. To get the most out of this scene, meter for the whole frame to gain the average exposure or bracket exposures to compile together later. Some models now offer an in-camera HDR setting – if you are confident in its abilities perhaps try it here.

To capture nothing but the clouds, such as a fierce storm cloud before it breaks; set your camera upon a tripod, select a narrow aperture, zoom in as close as possible and meter across the scene due to the varying exposure levels within the frame – as such a circular polariser may be of benefit here too.

Frost

Image by Eduardo Amorim

Shooting in the early hours can often produce the best photography thanks to that soft, warm and subtle light and if the ground is sprinkled with a fine layer of frost, the colours of the earth can appear luminous as the ice shines against the shine’s glare. Find a location where the ground shows through and a variety in colours will also add interest. The potential for delicate frost-covered macro shots is vast, so pack a waterproof blanket and get as close to nature as you dare. Use a wide aperture and employ a polarizer should you want to saturate colours.

Lightening Storms

That elusive and fleeting electrical bolt can drive even the most patient of photographers crazy. To maximise your chances of a decent capture set your camera on a tripod and turn off the lens’ vibration reduction option. If are shooting with a compact switch it into fireworks mode and keep as still as possible or balance the device on something solid.

Image by Brujo+

Finding a good shooting spot is half the battle. Shooting in urban environments such as towns and cities are counter-productive as the light pollution can detract from the ambience of the storm, so if possible travel outside of the urban district and away from abundant light sources to a place where the skies appear darker.

When using a DSLR set the camera into Manual and ISO 100. A wide angle lens will give you a better chance of catching the fork as it falls and this offers you the potential to later crop in for effect. Alternatively zoom in with a telephoto for extra drama and the ability to play with perspective. In either case it is ideal to compose the scene to include foreground interest.

Ideally an aperture of around f8 will yield strong results but will depend on what else you want to capture within your scene. Keep the shutter open using the bulb exposure for a shutter speed of around 15 to 30 seconds (or even more in some cases) and release the button when the fork hits. Due to the sporadic nature of lighting you will find you have to repeat this process several times to get a decent shot and for well defined images it is recommended that you incorporate a remote to release the shutter or a self timer (although this will take extra patience).

Fog

Don’t think of fog as dull, think of it as enchanting and like most weather, fog looks best at first light. A tripod is essential and lengthy exposures will work best here with a polarising filter helping to control exposure.

Image by monkeyleader

Foggy scenes are generally low-contrast events and as such colours are muted – two things you can later tweak in the editing suite if required. However, this lack of immediate interest combined with a void backdrop will mean you will need to compensate in other ways to engage the viewer – i.e. intriguing foreground interest, so consider the composition wisely.

Wind

A strong gust of wind is often the common culprit for shaky landscape captures, so take a plastic bag along with you to the location and fill it with rocks and stones along the way. Hang this bag on the hook underneath the base of the tripod to ground it; alternatively you can use your camera bag backpack.

Image by dawn m. armfield

Once in position and a stable position too, consider using a lengthy exposure to capture the movement of clouds across the sky. Again a polariser or ND Grad filter could help you here.

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

  • http://www.bonnierannald.com Bonnie Rannald

    Very informative and helpful tips. Photographing scenes during changes in weather is my favorite; sunny, clear days I’m inside processing the images.

  • Scott

    Another great article from Natalie Johnson, and the included photos really rock.

    In Germany a cold Winter sky really comes thru. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4281697314/

  • Mike W

    Great article and love the tips! these are shots that everyone wants to play with! Just PS you spelled lightning (lightning bolt) as lightening (to lighten something). Thanks!

  • http://dennisaquino.com Dennis Aquino

    Great tips! I look forward to trying them out today.

  • http://www.shermanunkefer.net/about/ Sherman Unkefer

    I just love this site – I have wanted to photograph winter scenes and will definitely use these tips. Thanks!

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    Not too many chances, none really, to photograph frost in Florida, but great included image. I really like the black & white processing on the lightning shot, very original.

    What Florida does have though is lots of clouds and lots of open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    Not really any frost to photograph ever in Florida, but really like the horse and frosty field shot. The black & white processing on the lightning shot makes it very original too.

    Florida does have lots of dramatic clouds and a wide open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    Not really any frost to photograph ever in Florida, but really like the horse and frosty field shot. The black & white processing on the lightning shot makes it very original too.

    Florida does have lots of dramatic clouds and a wide open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • Anand

    Sorry but the pictures that are overly HDR’d and composites don’t really relate to the theme of this post – capturing weather.

  • http://divyasom.wordpress.com Divyasom Malhan

    Very informative post. Thanks for it.

    I have two questions for you.

    1. Why have you suggested to turn off the VR while capturing lightening shots? Is it because of the fact that a tripod will provide enough stability or due to some other reason?

    2. Where can I study more about use of polarizers and other filters together with examples of what difference they make to a picture?

  • Divyasom Malhan

    I have 2 questions.

    1. Why have you asked to turn off VR while capturing lighting? Is is because of the tripod providing enough stability or some other reason?

    2. Where can I get to know more about the effect of polarizers and filters together with some samples that explain their effect?

  • http://www.cabinfeververmont.com Jen at Cabin Fever

    The weather dictates my photography SO much! Unless you are inside in a studio I think it does for everyone. What I love is getting so intimate with the knowledge of weather and intertwining it with photography. There are so many little things you do in the instance of specific weather conditions. …perhaps because I was a meteorology major is why I pay attention so much? Either way, I think it results in better photos!


    NEK Photography Blog

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • http://www.flickr.com/saltug Serhan Altug

    The clouds was excallent. No HDR but like HDR.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/saltug/4991396949/

  • dok

    OMG! The lightning bolts and fog photographs are really, really beautiful.
    I am much less convinced by the first one. HDR is not a problem of course but in this case, I find a problem between the tourists in shorts and t-shirts (summer!) and the sky that gives a colder mood.

  • Aaron

    Overall a good article. One thing I would disagree with is the author’s repeated recommendation of using a polarizer for controlling exposure, as well as the ND Grad for the wind. Polarizers do often reduce exposure by a stop or so, but ND filters (non-grad) are a better choice for fog, rain, and other situations where one wishes to use a slower exposure than otherwise possible. Polarizers are good for bringing out bluer skies and greener greees, but can’t necessarily be reliable for reducing exposure as ND filters are. With a ND filter (preferably a stackable set of them), you know exactly how many stops you’re losing. With a CP, it’s not always that exact. And you have to be careful with ND grads, as far as lining up the horizon exactly where the grad becomes most noticeable. If there is anything on both “sides” of the horizon, the ND effect will likely ruin the shot. Use standard grad filters. The graduated effect can be mimicked in Lightroom and PS.

  • Mei Teng

    Enjoyed reading this article. And thanks for the great tips.

  • http://www.fun-nature-photography.com Peggy Collins

    One thing I miss about living on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, you get lots of chances to practice shooting in foggy and windy conditions. I don’t own any filters (yet) and must admit that I rarely use a tripod (I know, shame on me!) but I find that as long as you aren’t actually standing in the fog, you have a better chance of capturing a sharp shot. I was standing on our back deck when I captured this great blue heron surveying its domain.
    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/2981420640/’ title=’Heron in Morning Mist’ url=’http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3236/2981420640_84a7fb8234.jpg’]

  • simon cotton

    Just thank you, this article like your others has ideas that I may apply and like all your material, embrace what I can use.They all set me thinking. I am 83 and walking 100 metres to get a shot is about it. What you offer me is something to think about now and try laby it and changing to Aperture having grown out of I Photo to walk with RAW. Your articles make me feel part of a photo community without being competitive or commercial. Thus have found another discipline that has no limits. Lots of photo opportunities here in NZ. too. Well done.

  • Carping Niggler

    Never ceases to amaze me how many people can’t spell “lightning” (or don’t bother to proof read what they post online – cf. the first sentence: “often thankfully”). Lovely choice of pix though!

  • William j dochertaigh

    If the weather doesn’t provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn’t, I’ll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh’s and ahhh’s from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that’s made so much better because I shot it

  • William j dochertaigh

    If the weather doesn’t provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn’t, I’ll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh’s and ahhh’s from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that’s made so much better because I shot it

  • William j dochertaigh

    If the weather doesn’t provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn’t, I’ll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh’s and ahhh’s from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that’s made so much better because I shot it

  • darci

    @divyasom: the vibration reduction will mistake the tiny movements of the lightening as being camera shake on a fixed light source, so it will try to “correct” it. i’m told any time you use a very long shutter speed, you want to turn off VR.

  • http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com Jessica S.

    I think all of these are excellent tips. I am still having trouble shooting in fog, and capturing lightning is something I just don’t have the patience for yet.

    I love black and white rain photos as well. Here’s one I particularly loved:

    http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2010/04/monochrome-thursday.html

Some older comments

  • Jessica S.

    September 19, 2010 07:29 pm

    I think all of these are excellent tips. I am still having trouble shooting in fog, and capturing lightning is something I just don't have the patience for yet.

    I love black and white rain photos as well. Here's one I particularly loved:

    http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2010/04/monochrome-thursday.html

  • darci

    September 19, 2010 10:14 am

    @divyasom: the vibration reduction will mistake the tiny movements of the lightening as being camera shake on a fixed light source, so it will try to "correct" it. i'm told any time you use a very long shutter speed, you want to turn off VR.

  • William j dochertaigh

    September 18, 2010 11:55 pm

    If the weather doesn't provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn't, I'll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh's and ahhh's from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that's made so much better because I shot it

  • William j dochertaigh

    September 18, 2010 11:54 pm

    If the weather doesn't provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn't, I'll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh's and ahhh's from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that's made so much better because I shot it

  • William j dochertaigh

    September 18, 2010 11:54 pm

    If the weather doesn't provide an overall landscape scene, or the foreground doesn't, I'll shhot the dramatic, pretty or tempestuous sky for a computer desktop background. I never fail to get ooh's and ahhh's from them, but more importantly it provides a pleasing, soothing backdrop that's made so much better because I shot it

  • Carping Niggler

    September 18, 2010 07:25 pm

    Never ceases to amaze me how many people can't spell "lightning" (or don't bother to proof read what they post online - cf. the first sentence: "often thankfully"). Lovely choice of pix though!

  • simon cotton

    September 18, 2010 03:56 pm

    Just thank you, this article like your others has ideas that I may apply and like all your material, embrace what I can use.They all set me thinking. I am 83 and walking 100 metres to get a shot is about it. What you offer me is something to think about now and try laby it and changing to Aperture having grown out of I Photo to walk with RAW. Your articles make me feel part of a photo community without being competitive or commercial. Thus have found another discipline that has no limits. Lots of photo opportunities here in NZ. too. Well done.

  • Peggy Collins

    September 17, 2010 11:51 pm

    One thing I miss about living on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, you get lots of chances to practice shooting in foggy and windy conditions. I don't own any filters (yet) and must admit that I rarely use a tripod (I know, shame on me!) but I find that as long as you aren't actually standing in the fog, you have a better chance of capturing a sharp shot. I was standing on our back deck when I captured this great blue heron surveying its domain.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/2981420640/' title='Heron in Morning Mist' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3236/2981420640_84a7fb8234.jpg']

  • Mei Teng

    September 17, 2010 03:31 pm

    Enjoyed reading this article. And thanks for the great tips.

  • Aaron

    September 17, 2010 09:03 am

    Overall a good article. One thing I would disagree with is the author's repeated recommendation of using a polarizer for controlling exposure, as well as the ND Grad for the wind. Polarizers do often reduce exposure by a stop or so, but ND filters (non-grad) are a better choice for fog, rain, and other situations where one wishes to use a slower exposure than otherwise possible. Polarizers are good for bringing out bluer skies and greener greees, but can't necessarily be reliable for reducing exposure as ND filters are. With a ND filter (preferably a stackable set of them), you know exactly how many stops you're losing. With a CP, it's not always that exact. And you have to be careful with ND grads, as far as lining up the horizon exactly where the grad becomes most noticeable. If there is anything on both "sides" of the horizon, the ND effect will likely ruin the shot. Use standard grad filters. The graduated effect can be mimicked in Lightroom and PS.

  • dok

    September 17, 2010 05:42 am

    OMG! The lightning bolts and fog photographs are really, really beautiful.
    I am much less convinced by the first one. HDR is not a problem of course but in this case, I find a problem between the tourists in shorts and t-shirts (summer!) and the sky that gives a colder mood.

  • Serhan Altug

    September 16, 2010 10:29 pm

    The clouds was excallent. No HDR but like HDR.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/saltug/4991396949/

  • Jen at Cabin Fever

    September 16, 2010 07:16 pm

    The weather dictates my photography SO much! Unless you are inside in a studio I think it does for everyone. What I love is getting so intimate with the knowledge of weather and intertwining it with photography. There are so many little things you do in the instance of specific weather conditions. ...perhaps because I was a meteorology major is why I pay attention so much? Either way, I think it results in better photos!


    NEK Photography Blog

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • Divyasom Malhan

    September 16, 2010 06:51 pm

    I have 2 questions.

    1. Why have you asked to turn off VR while capturing lighting? Is is because of the tripod providing enough stability or some other reason?

    2. Where can I get to know more about the effect of polarizers and filters together with some samples that explain their effect?

  • Divyasom Malhan

    September 16, 2010 04:08 pm

    Very informative post. Thanks for it.

    I have two questions for you.

    1. Why have you suggested to turn off the VR while capturing lightening shots? Is it because of the fact that a tripod will provide enough stability or due to some other reason?

    2. Where can I study more about use of polarizers and other filters together with examples of what difference they make to a picture?

  • Anand

    September 16, 2010 02:29 pm

    Sorry but the pictures that are overly HDR'd and composites don't really relate to the theme of this post - capturing weather.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    September 16, 2010 01:50 pm

    Not really any frost to photograph ever in Florida, but really like the horse and frosty field shot. The black & white processing on the lightning shot makes it very original too.

    Florida does have lots of dramatic clouds and a wide open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • Jason Collin Photography

    September 16, 2010 01:49 pm

    Not really any frost to photograph ever in Florida, but really like the horse and frosty field shot. The black & white processing on the lightning shot makes it very original too.

    Florida does have lots of dramatic clouds and a wide open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • Jason Collin Photography

    September 16, 2010 01:45 pm

    Not too many chances, none really, to photograph frost in Florida, but great included image. I really like the black & white processing on the lightning shot, very original.

    What Florida does have though is lots of clouds and lots of open sky:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/8/11/sunny-florida-at-f11-project-07-tampa-bay-panorama-in-portra.html

  • Sherman Unkefer

    September 16, 2010 07:55 am

    I just love this site - I have wanted to photograph winter scenes and will definitely use these tips. Thanks!

  • Dennis Aquino

    September 16, 2010 05:51 am

    Great tips! I look forward to trying them out today.

  • Mike W

    September 16, 2010 04:12 am

    Great article and love the tips! these are shots that everyone wants to play with! Just PS you spelled lightning (lightning bolt) as lightening (to lighten something). Thanks!

  • Scott

    September 16, 2010 04:03 am

    Another great article from Natalie Johnson, and the included photos really rock.

    In Germany a cold Winter sky really comes thru. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4281697314/

  • Bonnie Rannald

    September 16, 2010 01:55 am

    Very informative and helpful tips. Photographing scenes during changes in weather is my favorite; sunny, clear days I'm inside processing the images.

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