3 Tips to Take Better Landscape Photos Regardless of the Weather

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Photographers are a special type of people that usually pay a lot of attention to detail. They’re also known to be patient and perseverant. However, in my opinion, landscape photographers are a unique breed. I’m sure that only a hand full of people are willing to hike 10 miles with 25 pounds of photography gear on their back, just because they hope to seize the perfect moment.

Golden Hour in Pyramid Mountain  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

Generally, in photography, practice leads to improvement. However, practicing landscape photography is a bit trickier since you don’t have control over the light setup, the weather, or the subject. Sometimes, you might plan a trip for three months; you research the best spots, and you bring all your equipment. Then, when it’s show time, you walk outside to face a cloudy, rainy day, if not a snowy mess. All that can be very frustrating. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to deal with that. In this article, I will share three simple tips to help improve your images and take better landscape photos, regardless of the weather.

1. Using clouds to avoid harsh light

Let’s start by talking about one of the most important topics in photography, light. Usually, landscape photographers revolve their schedule around the Golden Hour, meaning the early morning or late afternoon. Photographers choose those portions of the day to take full advantage of the magical, warm, rich, natural light available. Yet sometimes, you cannot reach the planned location by car, making a strenuous hike of 10 miles the only available option to get to the desired place. Hiking is great, and if you love landscape photography you probably love the close contact with nature, but sometimes this passion doesn’t translate into mountain exploration at 3:30 a.m. Occasionally, you will find yourself starting your day hike around 6:00 a.m. to reach the desired area around 10:00 a.m., meaning that you will have to work with hard sunlight.

Portrait photographers have an easy fix for that problem, move the model to the shade. I’ve tried using the same approach in landscape; but I’ve never had any luck trying to move mountains and lakes around. Another approach that portrait photographers use to avoid hard light is using light modifiers such as diffusers and softboxes. Unfortunately I don’t believe you can buy one of those big enough to use on a mountain. What you can certainly do is use the clouds as a light diffuser, thus avoiding the harsh sunlight from midday. Depending on how you capture your image, clouds can also help improve your composition by adding depth or a sense of movement. After I grasped this concept my mindset shifted, now I’m always hoping for the perfect cloudy day.

Bald Hills  Maligne Lake  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

2. It’s all about the drama

If this tip wasn’t enough to make you enjoy a cloudy day, let me tell you about a second trick that involves clouds when capturing landscape images. We all like to go online to wonder around photo sharing communities, looking for inspiration, a different point of view or even a new technique. I’m no different. I like to believe that I’m very active in some of those social media channels, however, when I look through pictures, I avoid focusing on landscapes. I like to explore portraits, Black and White, macro, pretty much anything but landscape. I can imagine you asking yourself, “Why would a landscape photographer do that?”. The answer is quite simple; I like to borrow successful techniques used in other fields. Sometimes, when I’m trying to capture an image of a mountain, I don’t face it as a landscape. I try, for example, to approach that image as a portrait. Once you learn how to repurpose techniques from one type of photography to another you will notice an improvement in your art.

In most types of photography, the most striking photos are those with strong contrast; images that harmonize shadows and highlights seamlessly. One side effect of the current advances in digital photography, sensors, and the digital darkroom, is that a lot of landscape artists try to capture everything in one single image. Some will use HDR to bring up the shadows, others will use masking and blending to create a final image. I was no different.

Lately, inspired by the work of great masters such Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson, I’m trying to play with the shadow to highlight ratio in my images. Portrait photographers are very good at using artificial light (strobes or speedlights) to create dramatic images. In landscape it might be a bit more difficult to position the sun at a different angle. Still you can use clouds as a light filter, concealing light from distracting spots while revealing patches of bright sunlight that will accentuate your main subject. Once you start to play with this idea you will be able to create very dramatic images during those dreadful cloudy days.

Tekarra Mountain  Skyline Trail  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

3. The path of balance

Finally, keeping up with the idea of creating a dramatic image, photographers must be able to understand an important concept called balance. Not only the shadow and highlights balance, but also color balance, subject positioning, overall image balance and so forth. I remember some of the first photos I took, very often I liked the concept behind the photo, but the final image just didn’t convey what I had envisioned. That was when I discovered the concept of balance.

This concept is very basic, yet extremely powerful. A well-balanced image will stand out on its own and will captivate your audience. Balance, simply put, is how you distribute the elements, colors, and brightness in the frame. There are countless ways to achieve balance, so many that we would probably need another entire article just to talk about it. As a general rule though, a well-balanced picture aims to distribute the elements evenly throughout the image. So next time you are out capturing an image, try noticing how you arrange the elements in the frame. Check if the amount and position of the shadow and highlight are reflecting what you want to show in your photograph. Finally, before you press the shutter, ask yourself if all the elements in the frame are contributing to the overall image. Sometimes, you can get overwhelmed by the landscape, and in an attempt to capture all the beauty you end up with a busy, unbalanced, and unappealing image.

Silence  Banff National Park  Alberta  Canada

I will leave you here, but next time you’re out there during a cloudy day, instead of complaining about it, just try your luck. You might be surprised by what you can achieve when you open your mind to work with whatever mother nature throws at you.

Mountain tops  Banff National Park  Alberta  Canada

Do you have any other cloudy day or landscape tips? Please share in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Diego Lapetina is a landscape photographer with over five years of experience. Living close to the Canadian Rockies he spends a large portion of the year exploring and capturing nature through his lenses. He has sold some of his landscapes to a few collectors and now he's focusing on launching his website. You can also see his work on 500px.

  • Michael Owens

    Using the weather to your advantage has always been one of my strong points.

    I actually prefer bad weather to shoot in.

  • TrungH

    So, what if the weather is a clear sunny day?

  • Living in a country with severe winter taught me that I can’t be very pick weather wise. Nowadays I also prefer bad weather to go out taking pictures, it helps creating unexpected photos.

  • It’s important to understand that what I wrote isn’t the only way to capture landscapes. Everyone is going to find what works best for their style. In my opinion a bright sunny day is good to make colors more vibrants, so maybe you can use that in your advantage.

  • Jake Tenenbaum

    Dude, I TOTALLY feel you. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that clouds can often be my best friend. When it comes to daytime landscapes (or even “sky” shots,) clouds can often create amazing drama.

    I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge/experience..

  • Hey Jake thanks for the comment man, I’m glad to share my experience. It’s awesome to see other photographers taking advantage from whatever weather mother nature throw at us, I like to go out with my camera saying: – Bring it on, I’m ready for you mister weather. In days with bad weather, if I manage to get back home with a good photo I feel in sync with nature and that make me really happy.

  • Jake Tenenbaum

    I don’t think you should have dignified this guy’s comment with a response. I get the distinct impression he was being a smart-alec.

  • Jack Oates

    Great shots, Diego — wonderful examples of your suggestions!

  • Thanks Jack.

  • Tim Lowe

    Very thoughtful and useful article. I’m not a landscape photographer. I’m going to keep some of your points in mind.

  • Rob

    fantastic shots. I feel compelled to point out that balance does not mean the picture is symmetrical. One of the first things they pounded into us in art was that a child will put the sun off in one corner, as adults, we try and make everything symmetrical. Sure there are times for that, but look at these shots, the point of interest is off to one side. as it should be.

  • StirlingR

    Great tips. Your last image reminds me that I discovered clouds can be my friend on a cruise to Alaska. On the way up we had beautiful sunlight, with spectacular landscapes contrasting the dark mountains with the bright glaciers. On the way back the clouds were with us, yet some of my best photos were of the way wisps of clouds played with peaks and valleys. It brought out the underlying emptiness and loneliness of that land.

  • Thanks for the visit Tim, I hope you can use some of the tips in your future adventures.

  • Hey Rob, you’re completely right. Balance isn’t synonym of symmetry, a well balanced photo can be symmetrical, but not all symmetrical shots are well balanced. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • You description is spot on Stirling, the clouds really brings this feeling of emptiness and loneliness. Thanks for your visit.

  • damead

    Thanks for the tips. What I like is their generality; instead of 13 more specific tips, you boil concepts to three very general ones.

    I’ll go one step further; if your schedule allows, watch the weather and plan for storms. We went to Yosemite Valley one April to catch the moonbow on Yosemite Fall, but lucked out when a late storm passed through (obliterating the moonbow). We killed a day inside while snow fell, then drove up to Tunnel View with rain blowing horizontally. We stood under umbrellas (with the wind behind, luckily) at the magic hour, reassuring each other, “It’s gonna break, it’s gonna break.” The sun did—first at the far end at cloud-shrouded Half Dome, and then marching right in front of us from El Capitan to Bernal Fall. Ever since then, I generally skip cloudless days, even at the Magic Hours, or use them to find the best spot for when the wild weather calls. This is Galen Rowell’s strategy: “In Search of the Dynamic Landscape.”

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    Very good. My way of dealing with any form of natural or non- natural light is to accept the situation (problem). If you have no control over the lighting then create a composition that works with what you have, that can be a very rewarding challenge. I shoot inside and out, if colors are bad I go to B&W. I enjoy the effort to come up with a solution to the lighting situation. I soot lots of jazz musicians and the colored lighting can be terrible, but go with what you’ve got.
    Fluidr.com/photos/hankster123/sets

  • Raju

    Nice tips, to get this types of photos i had to wait on cloudy days, so that the sun light can peak through the clouds and hit the ground. By the way, great photos.

  • Michael Vereker

    Love the hike and the landscape shots. Last three time at the same place, a one hour drive and a three hour hike to the top of the Comeragh mountians in Co Waterford Ireland, I got there only to find it completely covered in cloud with visibility down to about 10 meters. Didn’t get one single shot. I will go back again and will have all your very good points from above forefront in my mind. Thanks for the
    tips

  • Mark Holm

    Great article – love clouds in my shots and even enjoy the challenge of working in the fog – the worst is when the clouds are just a flat layer – like high fog
    Then it’s time to start looking for macro shots of flowers, plants, insects, etc – any shot that keeps the sky out of the picture

  • You’re absolutely right, when you have a really thick layer of continuous cloud you have to focus in something else. Macro, portrait, architecture are all valid subjects.

  • I hope you get your perfect shot next time Michael. Thanks for the visit.

  • Thank you Raju.

  • You really do have the photographer spirit Hank, we have to play and find our way around of whatever we have available. BTW, great portfolio.

  • I really prefer to explain the concept rather give you rules. Once you understand the reason behind the concept you can use it in the way that will best fit you necessity. I take a look in this strategy Damead, thanks for sharing.

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Thanksgiving Day, I’m headed up the wild and scenic Umpqua River, and its raining! You’ve inspired me to “seize the day” and see what I can photograph using the weather to my advantage. Thanks!

  • Hey Sandy, I’m very happy to hear that you’re ready to face the rainy day. I hope you get a ton of awesome pictures, and maybe even share your shot with us.

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    Thanks,Diego.

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    For what it is worth, my fav lens on my D800 is the 24-120VR f4. I leave the polarizing filter on all the time if I am shooting in daylight. Works like an ND filter plus, I adjust ASA accordingly,great for pulling out the clouds.

  • Michael Owens

    It really does, in my opinion, add drama to otherwise mundane images.

    I prefer, like you, to shoot when it’s poor weather. Dynamic images are usually the result!

  • Michael Owens

    Likewise, I always shoot with a polariser. Helps bring out some detail.

  • Michael Owens

    You get your bikini on, and dance in the sun. The photographic God might smile upon you and grant you a moustache.

  • Circular Polarizer is the only filter that every landscape photographer should have in their backpack. When using it you will effectively cut light (usually) by 2 stops, so they are really good to help in longer exposure. If you need to freeze the moment you can adjust the ISO as you mention. The only thing that I would add to using CPL is to be careful when using it with a wide angle lens, since the polarization might not cover the entire frame, which renders a portion of the photo with darker/deeper blue.

  • Thanks for the visit.

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    I have not had a problem with the polarizer at 24mm full frame. Then again my position in relation to the sun( 90 degrees being max) and possibly height of the sun above the horizon will have an effect on the photo. The 24mm field of view is about 84 degrees so you could have a problem. Then again if the effect tapers off at the edges it might have a minimum effect on the whole photo

  • At 24mm you should be save Hank. What I meant to say it’s ultra wide angle, something lower than 24mm. I noticed this problem when I use my 17-40mm @ 17mm. I also never notice any problem while using my 24-105 in my FF. Thanks for the totally valid observation.

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    Thanks, enjoy your “bird” today.????

  • Juliana

    These pictures are AMAZING! You’re making me want to leave work early, grab a camera and step into the snowstorm raging outside my window.

  • delboy

    Good article. Nowadays the only day I don’t go out for landscapes out of the golden hour is days that have a blue sky. I love cloudy skies for the diffusion. Broken cloud is best I find.

  • sanbordini

    I took some landscapes yesterday in the rain on the Oregon Coast. Some of them are going to make for some great black and whites.

  • Thanks for the visit.

  • You should go, enjoy your weekend.

  • Swati Prasad Siddharth

    Hi. I was,wondering if you could give me a tip? We were on a safari early one morning … Fog and mist shrouded every inch, and then we came upon a herd of elephants. While I got some good shots, is was unable to get that sense of incredible mystery and awe … Those huge silent creatures not 20 feet away emerging from the mist … It was a fantastic experience … Any suggestions on how to capture the emotions would be so welcome. Thank you,

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Thanks, Diego. I put on my boots, popped my umbrella and had a great time getting creative with rhe rain, the mists, and the river. At the end of the day, there was the tiniest moment of gold, and I caught it reflected in the lake:
    http://500px.com/photo/91265695
    It was great to have your inspiration to carry with me into the weekend. Thanks again!

  • dawnamber

    Hubby and I were on a photography journey one weekend when we chanced upon a woman taking pictures of a lake on a misty day. She complained about the wet; my response to her was, “Anyone can take a picture on a sun-shiny day! You can get some unusual pictures from the rain.” She thought about it for a second, said, “You’re right!” and continued to snap her pictures.

  • You have to go out and try to enjoy every single opportunity in life, sometimes the best frames are where you least expect. Thanks for the visit.

  • I get the feeling with your description, for some reason this image give me the impression of a low contrast black and white, but it’s very hard to give any input on it without taking a look on it before. Could you share it with us?

  • Hey Sandy, I visit your 500px page and the image is amazing, great work finding the golden reflection, it creates a great contrast against the rest of the cold toned image. You knocked that one out of the park, amazing job framing, capturing and post processing.

  • Pravin Dwiwedi

    Lovey explanation and tips…

    Guys, you can also go through the below blog–

    http://travelinsideindia.com/2014/09/photography-suryalanka-beach/

  • Pravin Dwiwedi

    Landscape Photography at Hill Station during rain..

    http://travelinsideindia.com/2014/09/photography-rainy-season-hill-station/

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