Photography When The Weather Doesn't Cooperate
September 21, 2009 02:57 PM by Greg Beddow Add your comments
I'm a big fan of being ready to take advantage of opportunities. Of taking the camera along on those outings "just in case". And if I'm not inspired that day by what I'm seeing, that's OK. Sometimes the camera doesn't make it out of the bag. The important thing is it was there, at the ready.
Like a lot of things in life, photography has its challenges: You take the family to the beach, you remembered the camera, but it's a lot windier than you hoped (unless you really like that wind-blown look in your family!). Or you head for the woods to take a hike, and the clouds move in: The sky is dark, everything around you is a monotone, and the camera stays packed away. Bland, uninspired photo conditions, right? But wait a sec. Is it possible you're still missing an opportunity?
You can't control the weather obviously, but in many cases you can not only control your response to it, but actually use that less-than-perfect weather to your advantage. How's that you say? Try this the next time you're challenged by the weather: Pull the camera out anyway. Go ahead, I'll wait while you get it. Begin by taking a few shots of whatever's going on. Establish some context for the outing with a few landscapes. Get some of the dog playing in the ocean. You can be freer if you're shooting digital of course since you can always delete them later, but even with film it's a worthwhile exercise.
Here's what I mean:
Not the most inspired photo, and certainly not the best light, but think of it as loosening up those photo muscles. Next comes the really important part: look beyond the obvious landscape/family/pet shots. Here's an example of something small that caught my eye:
A common beach flower in our area, perhaps an inch across, and one that usually goes unnoticed. Look for subjects like these that stand out against their backgrounds. Pay attention to light direction: it may be cloudy but you still don't want to cast a shadow over your subject. Try getting in as tight as your camera will allow. If you have a macro setting, use it. Otherwise get as close as the camera can focus, then zoom further if needed.
The conditions on the beach one day were cool & windy -- per usual in Northern California -- and by far the most interesting thing going on was an unusual swarm of thousands of ladybugs scurrying across the sand. The challenge was to isolate just one, and to present her (him?) against the open, sandy landscape.
Finally, an example on a cloudy day that's less about close-ups and more about staying open to possibilities -- in this case cropping later to a less traditional, wide landscape orientation:
While it's true that these could have instead been shot in perfect weather, there are actually distinct advantages to shooting on overcast days. For one, unless you're shooting very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon / evening, the sun in a cloudless sky makes for difficult lighting. Most areas will have the same approximate brightness, creating a very flat scene. The highlights can be harsh, with washed-out areas, and deep shadows can drown out, rather than define, the shaded areas. There's simply too wide a dynamic range to effectively capture the scene. Second, on a cloudy day there's a quality to the light in close-ups that suffuses through a scene -- glowing rather than radiating -- that you just can't get on a bright day.
So while you shouldn't overlook close-ups and other less obvious shots regardless of weather, try it especially the next time the weather's not cooperating. You remembered to bring your camera, right?
How do you deal with shooting when the weather's less than ideal? Share your thoughts & tips by jumping in with your comments!