Photography / Tips and Solutions

Use Unruly Weather to Your Advantage, in Photographs

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As photographers, we tend to monitor weather conditions before deciding whether to shoot outdoors on any given day. After investing thousands of dollars in a camera and lenses, we are determined to protect our gear at all costs. But if you truly think that rain or snow is an obstacle to getting outdoors and building that portfolio, you’d better think again!

Lone man walking in Times Square during a snow stormRon Jautz of Jautz Photography

Rain, snow, overcast skies, and even harsh daylight can offer ample opportunities to create extraordinary photographs—with the right protective gear and practices. It’s time to hush the urge to stay indoors during inclement weather and get out there and make some exceptional photos instead.

Snow

Snow can be magical to photograph. However, for many novices, it can be a nuisance to capture accurately due to poor white balance settings. The unaided camera sees snow as 18 percent gray. To counter this, use manual mode settings when shooting a snow scene and overexpose by 1-½ to 2 stops to keep everything a beautiful bright white. You can make any further adjustments in post-production, if needed. If you shoot in automatic mode, use exposure compensation and increase your exposure by the same amount.

Man walking through a snowstorm in the Flatiron DistrictRon Jautz of Jautz Photography

Snowy conditions can look extraordinary in black-and-white images. For a stunning addition, have a friend hold a plain umbrella to add a darkened shape to the scene.

Besides untouched paths of white, one of the most eye-catching aspects of a snow scene is a blanket of snow draped over a random, everyday object, such as layered over a bicycle or a row of trees, as in the image below. This can add to the magic of snow photography.

The Literary Walk, in Central Park, is a favorite for shooting right after a snowstorm.Ron Jautz of Jautz Photography

One of the main challenges of snowy conditions is the cold, which calls for wearing gloves, yet this can create issues when adjusting your camera controls or pressing the shutter button. Luckily, there is a stylish, yet functional model just for this purpose—the Rucpac Professional Tech Gloves for Photographers. The rubberized palm grip makes these easy to use while operating your DSLR or other digital camera. They are also touchscreen compatible.

RUCPAC Professional Tech Gloves for Photographers

Another concern is that camera batteries tend to drain much faster in cold weather. To counter this, keep your batteries warm by packing them on your person and add an extra layer of padding by keeping them in pouches. ThinkTank has great solutions for battery storage, such as the ThinkTank DSLR Battery Holder 2, which will hold two camera batteries inside a hook-and-loop-secured pouch. To power speedlights and other camera accessories, ThinkTank makes the ThinkTank Photo 8 AA Battery Holder, which can house up to eight AA batteries inside a similar wallet-like container.

ThinkTank AA and DSLR Camera Battery Holders

Another problem a photographer might encounter is lens fog, caused by a change of temperature from one extreme to another, such as in cold weather or humid conditions. There’s a great product on the market that can help prevent you from missing a decisive shot due to lens fogging. The Lenspen FogKlear Anti-Fog Cloth works well for not only cleaning your lenses prior to use, but it also leaves behind a thin layer of anti-fog compound to protect your glass from lens fog.

The Lenspen FogKlear Anti-Fog Cloth

Rain and Thunderstorms

Water can wreak havoc on our gear, so many of us tend to stay indoors when the forecast calls for rain. This defensive strategy could cause you to miss myriad opportunities for stunning photographs. Wet streets in an evening, filled with colorful lights, can make for beautiful scenes that include colorful abstract pavement.

Wet streets can make for beautiful artistic scenes.Ron Jautz of Jautz Photography

While rain might deter a photographer from going out to shoot, you can avoid damage to costly gear by using a rain sleeve. The Ruggard RC-P18 Rain Cover for DSLR and Lens works quite well for keeping your DSLR and lens covered while shooting, and costs less than $6 for a pack of two. While the Ruggard sleeve is generally disposable, a more durable and reusable option is the Vortex Media Pro SLR Storm Jacket Cover, which is available in several different sizes and color options.

Vortex Media Pro SLR Storm Jacket Cover

Speaking of staying dry, to make sure the rest of your lenses and gear are well protected while shooting in wet conditions, a good waterproof/weatherproof backpack is in order. One of my favorites is the Lowepro DryZone 200 Backpack, because it has several compartments for your DSLR plus several lenses, a light meter, and other accessories you might need in the field. It also features straps for attaching a tripod for easy accessibility.

Lowepro DryZone 200 Backpack

Other terrific options are the Pelican U160 Urban Elite Half Case Camera Pack, which features lumbar support and is crushproof, and the miggo Agua Stormproof Backpack 85, which can accommodate a laptop in addition to your DSLR and lens.

Miggo Agua Stormproof Backpack 85 (left) and Pelican U160 Urban Elite Half Case Camera Pack (right)

Keep yourself protected from the elements, as well, with a Sachtler Rain Poncho. I like this poncho because you can store your camera bag under it, and it has a clear front with pass-through access for your hands on the sides, so you can see and access the gear inside your bag.

Sachtler Rain Poncho

If you decide to stay indoors, you can still take advantage of the inclement weather by using a macro lens and shooting through a window to capture rain droplets on the glass. Sitting in traffic in your car? Windows usually tend to fog up in vehicle, which offers a prime opportunity to shoot through your foggy wet windshield (while stopped at a light, of course!) You’ll get the same abstract effect as you would shooting wet pavement, like the first rain image, above.

When the rain is finished, the fun isn’t. Walk around outside to look for and capture reflections in the rain puddles.

A brownstone in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, in a rain puddleDawn M. Wayand

One of the most appealing aspects of rain (and probably one of the most sought-after results) are the rainbows that can magically appear in a storm’s wake.

Look for rainbows during and after a rainstorm, while the air is still wet.Ron Jautz of Jautz Photography

Hard, Merciless Sunlight

Many photographers avoid shooting in bright sunlight, since these conditions can wash out your subject and cause harsh shadows. Yet with the right tools, shooting in this environment can lead to great images.

Use a portable collapsible umbrella to prevent shadows under the eyes in harsh daylight.Dawn M. Wayand; (model: Daria Komarkova)

A portable collapsible reflector can do wonders in bright conditions. Use a reflector for fill light to soften shadows under the eyes and nose of your subject, such as in the image above. Lastolite’s TriGrip Reflector in Silver/White is easy to handle and can make for some interesting triangular catchlights in your subject’s eyes. Or, if you want the traditional circular shape for pleasing round catchlights in the eyes, Impact Circular Collapsible Reflectors have convenient handles on two sides that make it easy to do the job.

Lastolite TriGrip Reflector (left) and Impact Circular Collapsible Reflector (right)

Scrims—either handheld or attached to stands—are another great tool for diffusing bright daylight to make it less harsh. Westcott makes Westcott Scrim Jim, to aid in lighting control on location or in the studio.

Sunny days can be a great opportunity to look for and incorporate interesting shadows with a subject. I like to use the random patterns created by trees, such as in my fashion shot below. In these situations, remember to also use a portable collapsible reflector to prevent shadows under the eyes.

Shooting using shadows for interesting patterns. © Yann Bizeul (model...
Sunny days allow for great use of shadow on a subject. © Dawn M....

Overcast Skies

Many amateur photographers will not go outside to shoot unless the sky is blue and the sun is shining. What they don’t know is that overcast skies tend to enhance colors, making them deeper and richer. Bright sunlight usually makes everything bright, which can sometimes lead to a washed-out look, but overcast days with the contrast of light and dark clouds in the sky can add drama to the scene, changing the mood of the image.

Cloudy days can create drama in an image.Dawn M. Wayand

When photographing outdoors on an overcast day, you can still use a portable collapsible reflector to add fill light to your subject, by bouncing available light from the bright gray sky.

Forget the Weather—Get Out and Shoot!

Mother Nature rules the weather conditions outside. It’s up to you to get creative and not let this hold you back from shooting—no matter the circumstances. It can lead to unique and amazing results in the end, which will set you apart from other photographers.

Do you have any suggestions for taking photographs in harsh weather conditions? Please share them below, in the Comments section.

4 Comments

Photos taken in or just after a rain, especilly those using reflections off water on the ground, make excitingly intriguing pictures. For example, take two of the above shots; one showing the outline of a person holding a green umbrella reflected off wet bricks and the smaller shot of a building reflected off the wet pavement. Not terribly awe inspiring until you do something very simple - invert them. Yep! - rotate them 18o degrees and its a whole new ballgame.   

AS far a gloves goes there is a cheap an easy solution. Buy wool gloves with the figer tips cut . I have seen them for as little as three dollars. Target has them but you best bet is to get them on line. I have a few pair which Iuse in colder months if I go shooting outside, 

Rain puddles can be a great source of reflections. I still remember visiting China in 1995--back in the Age of Film. We arrived in Beijing, went to lunch, and then went to our hotel, after which we went to Tienaman Square. During the bus transfer it poured, but when we reached the Square, it had cleared, leaving puddles to add interest to the photos.

Rain and fog have always added atmosphere. One of the best photos of this genre I can recall is by Brassaï, from his book "Paris by Night" (1933). 

Looking at good photographs enables you to make good photographs. The good ones stay in one's visual memory and participate in the instantaneous give-and-take that is the first step to taking a picture, whether you have a "real" camera on you or only your smartphone. The initial decision: will this make a good picture. All the rest follows.,

Photography is opening your eyes to the possible, the beautiful, the interesting, and the ironic in this world. From an act as mundane as walking a dog, I've noticed beauty at my feet in the form of what most people would call weeds, or a bumblebee on a flower, or even the way light hit a sunflower in a tabletop arrangement. Stormy skies are dramatic and make me think of Renaissance portraits, with stormy Northern Italian skies and landscapes in the background.

The point of this article, very well written and with very good photographs, is learning to see. Seeing is the first step to either making a photograph or painting. Seeing is an everyday pleasure that is not to be missed.

We rarely get snow, but a month after I got my first DSLR, a Canon 5D III, Columbia, South Carolina got snow from winter storm Optimus Prime (the Weather Channel didn't add the Prime, but I lobbied to name the storm Optimus Prime from the Transformers). From my experiences with film, I moved the exposure compensation to +2; also, unless I'm in tricky lighting situations, the white balance on my 5D is set for daylight. For Optimus Prime, I experienmented with the white balance. With AWB, shooting in the shadows looked blueish; using daylight, the photos looked more natural. Yes, Lightroom can adjust the white balance with RAW format, but why not make fewer adjustments.

I had a year long project to photograph the full moons. Going between air conditioning and high humidity or from heated temperatures to cold, I would put my camera and lenses in my car to get them acclimated to the weather conditions so the lenses wouldn't fog up.

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