Why photographers are only happy when it rains
- words and pictures by Richard I’Anson
Many landscape photographers wait for clear blue skies, but with cloudless skies landscapes quickly become boring. It’s much better to mix up your scenes with a variety of skies. Indeed, an amazing sky can become the subject of your photograph, with the landscape included purely to give the photograph a sense of balance.
Most sky photographs have the horizon positioned very low in the frame, and some will even exclude it. And with digital post-production techniques that allow us to combine photographs, it’s always useful to build up a library of interesting skies to replace boring ones.
Generally your camera will read the exposure correctly, but the small strip of landscape at the bottom (if you have included it) may appear dark and underexposed. This isn’t a problem if the sky is the main subject. In fact, underexposing the sky by half or one stop can add colour saturation and detail, especially if the image includes white clouds.
The following tips will improve your photos of the sky:
- choose a wide-angle lens so that you can include a broad expanse of sky
- use a polarising filter to increase the contrast between the clouds and the sky and to enhance the blues
- shoot just before and after storms and during other changes in the weather.
Thousands of miles from anywhere, Easter Island is a fascinating destination even without its stone statues. This cloud formation presented itself to me one afternoon as I was walking along the island’s coast.
In the pre-dawn light only the very top clouds are reflecting sunlight, while the rest of the scene is bathed in blue sky light. An ultra wide-angle lens and a low horizon give the image plenty of space, and there is a subtle repetition of shapes with the clouds reflecting the rock formations below.
I find that your chances of encountering changes in weather increase when driving long distances and this is exactly how I found this scene. The sky was fantastic, but it was difficult to find a suitable landscape, so I simply concentrated on the sky.
STORMS & BAD WEATHER
Don’t put your camera away when the weather changes. This is often the time when the light is superb. Storms and bad weather can produce exciting opportunities, but you have to be ready for them. A burst of sunlight might last for only a few seconds, and if you don’t have your camera at the ready, the opportunity will be lost.
During torrential rain and heavy mist, visibility is significantly reduced and you will need to concentrate on nearby vistas. The colour can also appear a little dull or lifeless, so choose a high-contrast, high-colour film (such as Fujichrome Velvia or Kodak ExtraColor), or, if shooting digitally, increase the contrast and colour saturation during post-production.
As the bad weather clears, more opportunities often arise with increased visibility and the chance of breaking sunlight.
When photographing in bad weather:
- take an umbrella; this will protect you and your camera during rain
- keep a plastic bag or two to keep equipment and film dry
- use a wide-angle lens; this will allow you to include the sky, which is often the best part of a stormy landscape.
While the sky was stormy and overcast a dramatic and colourful composition was created by positioning the camera down low and close to the cliffside vegetation. A graduated neutral density filter was used to darken the sky.
The tropics have fantastic storm clouds. This image was taken late one afternoon and was slightly underexposed to produce more detail in the clouds and to give the colours more saturation.
Travellers can often capture great views from their hotel windows. This view fascinated me for two weeks, changing with the time of day and particularly the weather. Although they look stormy, these clouds quickly passed by.
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