In this weeks post, I would like to talk about bad weather; why you should go out when the weather sucks, how it can help you to get better images, and how to concur rain, hail and wind. After a beautiful autumn with incredible weather, at least in this part of Europe, it is now time for December. In the Netherlands this month is often dictated by changeable and unstable weather with lots of dull gray days, persistent fog, and lots of rain. A month in which a lot of people stay inside and leave their camera on the shelve to collect dust.
With this article I hope to encourage you to go out anyway! Despite (I would say: thanks to) bad weather, there are lots of amazing opportunities to be found, the weather simply adds to the drama and atmosphere! As a matter of fact, my best images are shot during bad weather. One of the major advantages of bad weather is that your not restricted to golden hour! And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing!
Overcast and drizzle
While I am writing this, the weather outside is miserable and gray. The light is flat, there is no texture in the sky, and it is drizzling. A day you wouldn’t think of going outside for photography right? Wrong! Even though the light is flat, the colors are popping! Reason for this is that an overcast sky forms a huge soft-box. Of course, this isn’t the type of weather to shoot grand vistas or plan a sunset session. This is the type of weather to go into the forest (where you will find shelter from the rain too) or into a park, and focus on a more intimate type of photography.
Because the peak of autumn is long past, a lot of trees now have lost most leaves. All those leaves are on the ground and form an incredible orange carpet. This alone is worth shooting! To top it off though, there are certain types of trees and bushes that still have their leaves, some will even stay like that throughout winter! These leaves are often orange, and really jump out against a grayish tree trunk background. This is especially true when the light is soft and diffuse. Because of the flat light, there are no highlights, therefor all attention goes to the colorful leaves. One huge advantage of this type of weather is that you are not at all dependent on golden hour, you can shoot all day because the color of the light won’t change.
Next to amazing light, fog is one of the coolest conditions you’ll get in landscape photography! I really love fog! Fog brings atmosphere, fog can be spectacular, and fog can simplify your image. In other words, perfect conditions for a landscape photographer. There are certain types of fog (ground fog, cloud inversions, low hanging mist etc.) and each has its own amazing character, but for this article I am talking about persistent fog that doesn’t seem to dissolve during the day.
Most people hate it and wouldn’t think about grabbing their camera. It is the type of fog that disrupts traffic and makes the air around cities smelly and unhealthy. But it is this type of fog that really helps to get amazing results. The further you look, the softer the contrast gets, and thus much of the details get dissolved. This helps to simplify your image by creating order and a sense of depth.
I love to stroll through the forest when it is foggy. The fog dampens the sound, so it is really serene! You can hear water dripping from the trees, and the forest will smell amazing. Photography-wise there is much to be gained too. People who’ve seen my latest video know that I struggle with woodland photography, but when there is fog, this struggle disappears. All of a sudden, I’m able to find compositions everywhere. So next time, when there is a persistent fog, don’t complain but grab your camera and head for the forest.
As with an over cast sky, you are not dependent on golden hour because the light of the sun won’t be able to penetrate the fog. I do advice you to go out early anyway because, even though persistent, you never know how long the fog stays! If you are planning to incorporate parts of the canopy of the forest in your image, it might be advisable to bring a soft- or medium edge gnd filter (i.g. the NiSi Soft edge GND4 (2 stops)).
Rain is definitely one of the hardest conditions to work with, especially for your morale. When it is raining, most photographers won’t bother with photography and leave their camera inside. But if you come prepared and are willing to get wet and miserable, it can lead to crazy results! In this section, I want to discuss two types of rain; rain showers and persistent rain.
Given the right circumstances, rain showers, or showers for short, are awesome! Showers often have a short duration. They tend to be quick and come in bursts, often scattered across the sky. If you are close to the sea, or a large open space, you can see them moving in, or even developing. Showers come from puffy clouds or cumuliform clouds, like cumulus or cumulonimbus. These clouds on its own are extremely photogenic, but combine them with sun and a huge rain shower and you have something amazing! Although short in duration, rain showers are often more intense than persistent rain and can be accompanied by heavy winds, so bear that in mind! Despite that, rain showers are the perfect ingredient for moody and atmospheric images.
Because showers are a temporary and strong outburst of rain, they are good to work with. You’ll be able so see their trajectory using weather apps, or by looking up when on location. This way, you can act accordingly. One of the coolest things with showers, is that they can occur together with a sunny sky. This in turn means that the chances for seeing a rainbow are high! A rainbow develops when the sun is in your back, whilst in front of you (or even above you) a shower occurs.
With some planning, you will be able to predict the trajectory of a shower. Of course you need a bit of luck, because like I mentioned before, the duration is often short. But if luck is on your side, and the shower aligns with the sun right in front of you, while you’ve composed your image, you’ll hit a pot of gold!
Another type of rain I’d like to discuss, is persistent rain. This type of rain stays all day, makes you awfully wet and miserable, and is almost always accompanied by a dull gray sky. It is the type of rain that makes you want to stay inside close to a fireplace, dreaming about the tropics. But even if the weather is this dreadful, there are images to be had. With this type of weather, it really doesn’t matter at what time of the day you will be shooting. You definitely won’t see the sun!
Because of the overcast sky, you need to find a subject that has color and/or is dynamic. This way you’ll be able to create something of interest in your image. Thanks to the aforementioned softbox effect, colors will really stand out against the miserable grayness.
When shooting in persistent rain, you have to accept that both you and your gear will get soaking wet. Most new camera’s and lenses are weather sealed, but be sure to check this before you head out! It is possible to put a rain cover around your camera, but I don’t like that. They are often flappy, loose, annoying and will get foggy. What I do like to do though, is to use a lens hood. This helps (a bit) to avoid raindrops on your lens. Although this works ok, you still need to wipe your lens before every image. As for yourself, wearing waterproofs helps a lot, but I always seem to get wet anyway. I guess you have to endure something to get the best results 😉
Personally, I don’t consider snow as bad weather. But shooting in a snowstorm, wet snow or plain snow showers can be quite a challenge. When it snows, the landscape becomes pretty gray and the light becomes flat. As with persistent rain and an overcast sky, the thing to do is to find color. Wet snow is definitely less preferable since it will stick to you, your camera and your lens. But besides the hassle, snow brings so many opportunities to be creative. You can choose a high shutter speed and freeze the snowflakes or choose a slightly longer shutter speed to get the effect of falling snow.
I’ll kick off with the less preferable type of snow, namely wet snow. This type of snow sticks to everything in its path, but will melt as soon as it hits a surface. In other words, it will get you and your gear soaking wet. The best way to photograph this, is by finding a composition with the wind in your back. Reason for this is that the snow will instantly stick to your lens and melt. Leaving a wet and cold mess in your lens hood. That being said, wet snow can create dramatic images! Because of its thickness a lot of light will be lost and therefore create a lot of mood. If you want to get a dynamic image, you can use a slightly longer shutter speed to create the suggestion of falling snow.
Snow showers, snow storms & persistent snow
As with rain, snow often comes in short bursts. These can be violent and heavy, but also nice and gentle. Sometimes snowfall can be really persistent. When it is accompanied by heavy wind, you’ll get a snow storm. This is a condition in which it is quite hard to photograph because of the heavy wind. If you find a sheltered place however, you can get amazing and dynamic images. On the other hand, when the snowfall is more gentle, it will be easier to work with. When the snow is dry, it won’t stick to your camera either. A snow shower has the same characteristics as an overcast sky, therefore it is best to find a composition with color.
On my winter tour on Lofoten last March, I’d set the alarm at 4.30 am to find a dark and complete overcast sky, without any detail and nothing looked like it was about to change. Where the sun was supposed to rise, there was nothing to see, not even the faintest light. We took it slowly, but than, out of nowhere, the sky became fully orange. We rushed to a nearby location and were lucky to be in time to get a piece of the action. What had seemed like an overcast, dull sky, had in fact been a really large snow shower moving towards us. As the sun started to rise, the falling snow got backlit. This was a nice lesson for me too! When awake, go out cause you never know what happens.
Last but not least; Storm! Possibly the hardest condition to be out photographing, especially when it is combined with rain. This is definitely one of the conditions in which I will be struggling. It is really hard to use a tripod when it is super windy, let alone use filters (especially when using the 150 mm filter system as I do). But often with heavy wind and storm, you will get a dynamic and fast changing sky, packed with drama and massive clouds! What I do under these circumstances is to find shelter among the rocks, and shoot from low vantage point. The legs of my tripod will be super wide for maximum stability.
It is best to get rid of the camera strap (if you haven’t already) because that will cause camera shake and thus unsharp images. Try to keep a fast shutter speed, but if you are in a place that is sheltered enough, do not hesitate to experiment with longer exposure times because the results can be mind blowing!
Thanks a lot for reading
That’s it for this week’s article! I hope it inspires you to go out, even when the weather sucks! When you get yourself out into the elements now and then, you will see that you will grow as a photographer! If you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema and Facebook. Check out my YouTube channel to see behind the scene vlogs, learn how to use certain gear and follow me on my adventures. If you want you can check out my webshop. Your support means a lot!