There’s little worse feeling than checking the forecast the day before leaving for a great vacation or trip you have planned for ages… only to find out you’ll never see the sun the entire time. All those beautiful sunny photos you had been dreaming of taking no longer seem possible. It’s all rain and clouds ahead. Just because the weather looks gloomy though, doesn’t mean it has to rain on your picture party.
This was the scenario I found myself in just before leaving for Nassau, Bahamas for Islands Magazine and their Best Islands to Live On issue. A day before leaving I received a frantic email from the family I was to follow and photograph for four days asking if we wanted to reschedule because of the gloomy forecast. When you’re on tight editorial deadlines and travel costs have already been laid out, there’s no turning back. You have to make the best of what the weather is going to give you. In a tropical location normally known for its crystal clear waters and deep blue skies that can be a definite concern as a photographer. You can’t come back to your photo editor with gloom and doom! You have to make something work – and work enough to be publishable and entice readers to travel.
Here are a few tips I’ve utilized on travel assignments that will help you in returning from your cloudy vacation with photos you’ll still treasure.
Frame Out the Sky
When the sky just doesn’t want to cooperate with you, simply cut it out of the picture. There are an endless amount of frames and compositions you can create without any sky in your shot, or only a small portion of it. Look for background elements you can blur out but will cover the sky like trees and buildings. While cloudy light certainly isn’t my favorite, there is something to be said for a nice big softbox in the sky. Even better if you can find a sandy beach reflecting a bit of light back up or any other large fill source like it.
One of my tasks while following a family of five around on Nassau was to show their daughter at the horse stables the family frequents. It was easy to find plenty of shots as she was prepping the horse in the stable, or by just placing myself in the right spot in the corral I could eliminate the solid cloud cover above with trees.
Utilize Shade Covered Spots
Areas that are shady on sunny days are still shady on cloudy days – just to a much less degree. That still can make them great spots for an even front light. The sun that does cut through the clouds bounces around off the ground and nearby objects. Doorways, under patio awnings and anything that’s creating a solid filter between you and the sun above can work. These can be great spots to place people and still get a nice even light. Take for instance this group of school kids sitting under an awning at their library. A relatively even light is hitting them all without any odd cloudy contrast. The colored t-shirts help add some pop to the photo and bring it to life.
Use a Polarizer
Polarizer filters aren’t just for sunny days. The idea behind them is to cut through haze and deliver crisper colors and contrast. When you’re battling extreme amounts of atmospheric haze from the clouds and fog polarizers can still be helpful. To check the difference, pop one on your camera, turn it (if you have a circular filter) to see if you notice any difference while looking through the viewfinder, snap a few shots and then compare it against a few with the filter off. You’ll have to compensate for anywhere between 1-3 stops difference, so make sure to factor that in when creating your exposures. When you just have to get some cloudy sky shots, this can help create a bit of definition behind the clouds – enough that you can drop a bit more color back in post to supplement what those clouds are taking away.
Make It Fun
A rainy or cloudy day doesn’t mean all fun stops. In fact there are plenty of photos you can only find on days like this. The idea is to pull out the fun, spontaneity or uniqueness of those moments. Some activities, like the rugby shot here, are actually suited well for damp, rainy, muddy days. It really brings the gritty sport to life. Other times you can find fisherman in bright yellow raincoats or travelers with umbrellas dotting the street. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to find a couple kissing in the rain. All of these make great shots in the rain and clouds.
On my Nassau assignment I was lucky enough to convince the family and friends to go out boating in the pouring rain. I covered up the camera in a water tight housing and we all prepared to get soaked and go boating and diving. It’s something the family might never have done on their own, but it created some great moments of everyone laughing while being pelted with rain. We also managed to pull up a brightly colored starfish from the ocean floor, creating a great punch of color. Truly a fun day.
Focus on Story Telling Details
Take photos of all the little details in tight crops. These really help tell the story of where you are. There’s no shortage of these anywhere you travel; signs, plants and animals, food, drinks, games and so much more. Always be on the lookout for these little elements. See beyond just the wide frame shot.
You can see how this travel assignment came together for the July/August 2012 edition of Islands Magazine of the family living in Nassau. While I had four days of rain and clouds, we still made it work. When it comes to client shoots there are no excuses – you have to get the job done!
Remember cloudy and rainy days don’t have to rain on your parade. You can still come home with great travel photos that will make your friends envious. All you need to do is know how and where to look.