Finding Comfort with Off-Season Photography

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When you are learning photography you read so much about golden hours, the right time of the day to take photos, and other rules. What about the sort of photos to take depending on the weather? People tend to think that you need good weather to get good photos.

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What happens when all there is only rain, fog, overcast skies, and all you want to do is sit inside, keep warm, and drink coffee? However, what if you disregard all that, and decide that you like the image you get in the winter or just bad weather?

There is no question that the images you get in the off-season (that could be snow, monsoon, or heat wave depending where you live), when you would rather stay indoors, are going to be very different. It should be considered as opportunity to see nature in a different light, and a challenge to be brave, to try new types of images. It is also important to take steps to make sure you and your gear are protected from the elements.

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A winter sunset at Port Arthur in Tasmania made even bigger by all the rain and the puddles creating fantastic reflections.

Here are a few reasons why off-season is a great time to take photos:

Not many people around

If you are anything like me, you dislike people who walk into your shot, or just won’t leave an area you want to photograph. During the popular vacation times you will be surrounded by people, and many other photographers who think that taking photos in popular places is also a good idea. It can be very crowded.

Winter (or off-season) is a time that most people decide not to travel, they don’t want the weather ruining their trip. This makes it the best time for you to go out and take photos. You may find that many spots are devoid of people, or there won’t as be many.

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It is an opportunity to take photos that others will not

As most people will stay indoors when the weather is bad, you will be able to get out and take the photos the others miss out on. Rain, fog and snow can all give you incredible images. Even overcast grey days will give you a different look. There are some of us who would go for an overcast sky any day, over a beautiful blue one with no clouds.

Making the most of breaks in bad weather

During bad weather there are going to be breaks where the rain (snow, or whatever you get there) will stop and if you are lucky the sun might even come out. In southern Australia that often happens. You might only get 10 minutes of it, or a few hours, so you have to make the most of it.

You can’t be lazy. If you see the weather improving, you need to get out there fast. Visit all the places on your list and see what you can get. In some instances, it may be the only opportunity you get to shoot some spots.

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A break in the rain at Strahan, Tasmania, so we spent four hours getting what we could before it started again.

Water in winter

There is something quite magical about water in the winter or off-season. When it isn’t raining, the stillness can create some magical landscapes where the water will be so calm, that everything reflects in it. Often after light rain you can get that flat reflective surface.

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Reflections in the water can be wonderful, especially when you get an overcast sky reflected as well.

Rain gives a natural vibrance

Have you ever noticed how a dry seashell is dull, and the vibrancy that you saw in it on the beach is gone? That is, until you wet it again! When I was a child we used to paint shells with clear nail varnish so they would keep that wet look.

The landscape is not that much different. You can’t paint it with varnish, but you can look for rainy days that make it all wet. Colours are saturated and just pop out. Grass appears a lot greener, and warm tones like red and yellow stand out a lot more. You get a landscape that is grey, but in it there are also saturated colours that are accentuated to make the image more interesting.

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Colours can appear saturated during and after rain.

Moody landscapes

Off-season gives you so many more opportunities to get moody landscapes. Nothing says mood like a scene drenched in fog. It has a way of isolating your subject, and making it the most important thing in the image. The mist is also great for getting silhouettes of objects, especially around water.

Overcast skies can do the same. Dark foreboding clouds can create darkness in landscapes, and give a sense of dread, tinged with some scariness. The absolutely best scene is the one with a dark overcast sky, then the sun peeks through a break in the clouds, and highlights an aspect of the image. It’s like hitting the jackpot, you get the best of everything. It is one of my favourite things to capture.

If you are out and see fog, frost, or lots of clouds, try to figure out how to make them work for you in your image. See if you can get lots of different angles, and what you can do with them.

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Fog can create moody landscapes and isolate areas.

Light

Photography is full of rules, how to take photos, when to take photos; it is said that you shouldn’t take photos between 10am and 4pm. Is this true? Perhaps in the summer, and those places that don’t really have winter, but if you live a long way from the equator this rule may not apply to you. The further you are away from it the less it applies.

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Winter (off-season) light is quite beautiful. There is a softness to it that makes photographing wonderful, and you can get some incredible images. The shadows are soft, meaning the edges aren’t hard and sharp like they are in the summer. The sun doesn’t get as high in the sky so the shadows are always long.

Living in a country like Australia where the summers are hot and harsh, I look forward to winter every year. It means I can go out and take photos for as long as I like, when I like. The clock doesn’t dictate when it is a good time. Winter is my absolute favourite time for photography here.

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On an overcast day the sun could suddenly come out and give your landscape a spotlight effect.

Equipment you need to take with you

When you are travelling in the off-season you have to be prepared for wet and cold weather. It’s likely going to mean that you will have to take more gear with you so that you can protect your gear.

In your kit it’s good to have a plastic raincoat cover for your camera; a sleeve that will fit over your camera, but the end is open for your lens so you can still take unobstructed photos. Many cameras can take a certain amount of water, the more high end ones more so, but you don’t want to push it much. If you are out in the rain constantly, then protect it as much as you can.

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Riding in a boat in open water in inclement weather is a disaster waiting to happen, so make sure you protect the camera and keep it covered up.

A lens hood is one of the best ways to protect the end of your lens when it is misty and raining. The sides of it can help prevent water from ruining your photos, unless you are shooting straight into the wind.

Having a lens cloth close by is an absolute must. As much as you try to keep the lens dry if there is any breeze, you will get drops of water on the end. It is good to keep it in your pocket for quick access. Nothing spoils a photo more than water drops on the lens.

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Waterdrops on your lens can ruin your images, and can be very hard to remove in post-production, especially if there are lots of them.

Making the most of it

You shouldn’t think of the off-season as a time to hibernate, but make the most of weather that other photographers don’t consider. Think about how you can get the weather conditions to enhance your images, and give you a final photo that is unique. Good luck with it and remember to rug up and keep warm.

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Waterfalls can be full of water from lots of rain.

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Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Great shots! I love the way reflections look in water or rain.

  • Thank you Cynthia, I love that too, especially when clouds are around.

  • LR
  • Great tips! I actually love bad weather. The other day, I was at my parents’ place for a visit when it started raining as if the sky was trying to drown everyone. I immediately rushed outside with my X-T1 and my 35mm WR and got fully drenched getting amazing raindrops everywhere. It was raining so much that the backyard was getting slightly flooded, which was also great. Not so much on my shoes and socks, but my photos did love it!

  • Karen Filo

    Great article Leanne! I’ve said numerous times that I’ve captured some of my best images on bad weather days!!

  • That is great to hear, and glad to see you will even get out in the rain, which is something we do have to do from time to time. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Thank you Karen, I feel the same way.

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  • Jess

    Come on now, ALL seasons are photography seasons! Lol. 😉 Teasing aside, great article! I love photographing bad weather when I can! The results can be stunning!

  • Nah, all seasons aren’t great, summer in Australia is shocking for photography, it is too hot, and the light is too harsh. The other three seasons are my favourites. lol
    Thank you Jess, it is great to photograph then, and you are right, the results can be really stunning.

  • Great article that should help photographers overcome some of their inhibitions. I was very much struck by the issues highlighted here when standing on Table Mountain in Cape Town a few weeks ago in the middle of a cloud. All around me were disconsolate photographers with their cameras hanging unused, but if they had but looked and *saw* they would have been able to capture an astonishing view of Cape Town through a foggy veil that was a great deal more interesting than just another fine weather view.

  • waynewerner

    Now you need some tips for taking photos in extreme heat and humidity. It’s been 95+ here for the last month or so… it’s been difficult to get *out* in that heat!

  • Exactly, you can miss some photos that you wouldn’t get otherwise. It is good that you were thinking differently and watching closely. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Oh yes, I must admit when it get hot here I stay indoors. Possibly could be good time for some macro photography. You do have to get out very early, and don’t have long before the sun gets too hot and the light is too harsh. I will give it some thought.

  • Didn’t do it on purpose but later surprisingly found the waterdrops on my lens created an exceptional fairy-tale view to the image, how do you think?

  • Geoff Naylor

    What you also get in bad weather, Leanne, are contrasting interior and exterior light sources. In the photo natural, street and shop iighting are fighting for domination during a stormy morning in central London.

  • Waterdrops can be such a pain but if they make an image better that is fantastic. Thanks for sharing Jace.

  • That is true, there are lights and colours everywhere. Thanks for sharing Geoff.

  • akyyy

    that was some of the most amazing nature clicks that i have ever seen i have 70d DSLR wth 50mm lens,16-135 and 70-120 so give me some tips and settings so that i can take even better pictures

  • You just need to get out there Akyyy, and read lots of articles, good luck.

  • Janice9631
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