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5 Hints for Turning Bad Weather into Great Images

Journal Blog

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5 Hints for Turning Bad Weather into Great Images

Karyn Planett

Just as bad experiences make great stories, “bad” weather makes great, moody photos. All you have to do is figure out the light. Think of all those shots where shafts of sunlight zap down between menacing, slate-grey clouds.

It’s so Hollywood.

So just because the weather isn’t great, don’t give up on capturing some great shots. Use these tips to get the most out of a shooting day–no matter the conditions:

1.    Often the beginning and end of storms offer the richest colors with a warm sunlight against a dark sky.

2.    To add drama to your storm photos, keep the horizon low in the frame, making the dark clouds appear even more ominous. Additional objects add depth to your scene and will also put your sky into some sort of context, so include buildings, landscapes, mountains, birds, planes, whatever.

3.    Fog creates mood and a sense of quiet and gives your landscape images a surreal feeling. It’s mysterious. It shrouds everything. So if it’s a soupy day, grab your camera and fire away. First, find something immediately identifiable like a steel bridge or a lone tree and shoot it. Be sure to include something of interest in the foreground. If you don’t have a strong subject or foreground, your image will be lacking perspective and won’t have any sense of depth. Look for things that trail off into the distance, like roads and fences or even ponds, where the distant details are swallowed up by the fog.

4.    Rain is another opportunity for photographers. Start by setting your ISO between 400 and 800 with a slow shutter speed, like 1/60th of a second, to capture the falling drops. A slower shutter speed will record the rain as spiky streaks. A flash, on the other hand, will freeze the rain’s movement. And for a really dramatic effect, you can also pan down with the rain. Raindrops bouncing on the pavement also add movement. Find your background, set up, wait for someone to walk into your frame, and fire away. It’s great if your subject is fighting the rain with an inside-out umbrella or struggling with a blowing raincoat. And if it’s raining at night, go out and shoot the city streets with the reflected lights in the puddles and people scurrying from doorway to doorway.

5.    If you’re from L.A., you haven’t had a lot of practice shooting snow. So just follow a few simple tips and see how you do in this alien environment, remembering that hot cocoa is your reward. Start your ISO at 400 depending on the available light. If you want big fluffy flakes, start at 1/125th, then graduate up to 1/500th. At 1/60th, the snowflakes will start to blur. At 1/30th, they’ll start to turn into foggy streaks. Bracket, but overexposing is the way to go when it comes to snow. Meter on your hand with the light source behind you to get a starting point, then work up and down from there. If there’s a little dollop of color, use it. A fire engine red parka, a school bus yellow snowmobile, a high viz orange truck. Try panning in the direction of the snowfall, isolating individual flakes for a bit more drama. A burst of flash can literally pop a single snowflake in place, isolating it and highlighting it against a background. 

Want more travel photography and writing tips from Planett Traveler? We’ve got a whole book of them, compiled from a lifetime of traveling and capturing my experiences. Take a look at