Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Photographer Clifford Pickett talks of times when we may wonder about going out to make images because the weather is ‘a certain way’.
However, he urges us not to see weather as good or bad for photography, just to see it as a certain way and make the most of it.
Certainly, weather is important in photography, and it is particularly important for landscape photography. Our weather on a particular day will often decide the type of light we have to work with, and light is crucial to good photography.
So often we are faced with dull, grey days when there is poor light. As photographers those might be the days when we decide that there’s no point going out to do photography.
Sometimes we could experience day after day of weather which does not seem to be conducive to photography, and if we allow it to, it could leave us feeling unproductive and frustrated.
Alternatively, we can have too much light.
We often hear that the optimal time for shooting is around golden hour or blue hour, and indeed those times do allow us to work with the best light possible, meaning that the success or otherwise of the resulting images is down to our own expertise.
Yet most of us are not somewhere beautiful all the time to capture amazing sunrises or sunsets or to make the most of that light. Many of us go shooting during the day and often the sun is just too harsh.
So, when faced with either extreme of dull days with poor light or very sunny days, also with poor light for photography, what do we do?
Well, despite the weather all is not lost and there are plenty of options for those ‘not ideal for photography’ weather days.
Here are some suggestions that might work and make photography possible on those days.
#1. Change your thinking (and your depth of field).
When I have a trip planned to a particular location where I know I can get some nice landscape images I am very dependent on having the weather live up to my expectations.
I might arrive in early morning or late evening, knowing that these are good times for landscape photography, but if the sun has not made an appearance any images I make are likely to turn out flat and lifeless.
One solution to this is to accept that I can’t change the weather and so try to change my expectations, abandon the bigger picture and go for a narrow depth of field.
I can spend some time experimenting with different apertures and getting close to parts of my subject while having the wider vista in the background.
In this way I don't need a blue sky or fluffy clouds, yet my chosen background becomes part of the overall image.
#2. Fill the frame.
Again, this technique is one which doesn't necessarily require amazing light. It's not something I do very often but it does work in this type of scenario where we arrive at a location intending to make some great landscape images and the weather works against us.
It can be challenging to find subjects which make good candidates for this type of photography, so I find I have to work a bit harder and really scout around the scene.
Filling the frame gives an opportunity to look for interesting textures or shapes that might work well.
#3. Try some macro photography
I don't have specialized macro lenses so I rely on my phone camera to get as close as possible to a subject. While the images are not great they do give me a flavour of what is possible if I want to invest in a macro lens, and it is an ideal type of photography to practice on those days when the weather won't allow us to capture good wider landscapes.
#4. Capture parts of the subject.
While I like to photograph parts of objects in the normal course of photography, it fits well with photography on a dull day.
While having light fall on part of a subject will undoubtedly enhance any image, it is still possible to make a decent image of this type on a dull day.
The challenging part of this is trying to find interesting parts of subjects, varying the angle you shoot from, looking for a unique perspective from which to make your image. If the image itself is a worthwhile one, the lack of good light may not be so obvious.
#5. Use the time to experiment.
While we all like to come home with some decent images after a photo shoot, we should take opportunities to just experiment.
If I go out with my camera or phone and use the opportunity to take multiple images and try different things, I am constantly learning something new and improving my skills.
Sometimes I deliberately take my camera out on a dull day with the intention of perfecting a particular skill that I have not yet mastered. For example, I am continually working on improving my use of shutter speed as I am not yet satisfied with the images I have made so far, so days when the weather is not ideal for getting good shots provide perfect opportunities to do this learning.
By going out with the intention of experimenting I am not expecting wonderful images, so I give myself permission to try and fail and try again. Instead of focusing on how I want a photo to turn out, I use these opportunities to learn something new and see this as a positive in my photography journey.
When we don’t have the pressure of capturing that great shot, and we take the time to stop, question what we are doing, analyze the shot and test different compositions, we will ensure improved results for future shoots.
#6. Think in black and white.
I like black and white photography and while I realise that images that are to be converted to black and white need good light just as much as colour images, I find that on days when the images themselves may not be great, I do get to spend time thinking in black and white, looking for good texture or tonal contrast and visualising scenes that would make good black and white conversions with the addition of better light.
It can also be true that on days when the light is soft we can make better black and white images than in harsher light, so it’s worth having a go if you like to convert to black and white.
A day with strong cloud formations can give us good black and white cloudscape images
#7. Embrace the weather.
We can often get spectacular images after a rain shower, on a foggy day, even mid-day on a very sunny day. All we have to do is embrace whatever nature gives us and adjust accordingly. I have captured a few raindrops on leaves, stopped to grab an image on a foggy day or walked around a subject until I found an angle that wasn't covered in a sun haze. In harsh light, when the sun is high, I just need to spend time looking for the best angle from which to shoot. As the saying goes, “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.”
I had an opportunity to photograph this ancient tomb but the sun was high and it was difficult to get a good image. I decided to move around until I found the best possible angle that avoided harsh shadows
#8. Shoot in RAW, adjust in Lightroom.
While no image editing program has a magic formula for rescuing a bad photograph or turning a dull image into a great one, it is possible to make some enhancements using Lightroom or other similar program.
When we shoot in RAW initially, we give ourselves more information to work with and more chance of being able to brighten our image and make it pop, but even JPEG images can be enhanced. We can simply do basic edits, use the radial or graduated filter or adjustment brush to brighten parts of our image or try pre-sets.
All of these options in an image editing program can transform our thinking about our bad weather photos as we give them a digital makeover.
A black and white conversion can make a big difference to an image...
---so can adding a vignette
OR Experiment with Colour Grading
I find that the colour grading option in Lightroom adds a bit of creativity to the editing process and is another way of re-imagining your final image. Instead of staying at home on a dull day and taking no photographs, you can go out, shoot lots and experiment with the outcomes. They may not be ‘show’ images, but they can provide you with an outlet for your creativity.
#9. Experience and enjoy the mental health benefits of photography.
Photography is a therapeutic activity for me.
It is my escape.
I find that when I go out with my camera I can get lost in the image making, I get a break from the worries of everyday life and I enjoy the creative process.
I can be in the moment, become observant of the world around me and appreciate what I see and try to capture.
It is important that I don’t allow ‘bad’ weather to take this joy away from me, so it is essential to find alternative ways to do photography when the conditions are less than ideal.
On some of these days I have what I call my observation days.
I will go out without a camera and spend time observing closely what I see, considering possibilities for my next photo shoot, seeing things that I had not seen before or noticing familiar things in a new way. This increases my sense of curiosity, a characteristic associated with positive mental health.
Often, I see something I want to photograph and make a note of it for a time when I can go back with my camera. In so doing I bring my photography mind with me wherever I go, I come up with ideas for future photographs and I enjoy a pleasure which inclement weather cannot spoil.
Taking time to ourselves, time to recharge, time to daydream, can inspire us and in turn make us more productive.
Strolling around my home area or driving to a new destination helps me to appreciate familiar places, discover new places and value all that is around me.
Days like these have helped open the door to mindfulness and encouraged my mindful photography practice.
Regardless of weather, there is no day when we cannot appreciate the subjects that make our photography possible.
Even on a bright sunny day we can pick out a subject to focus on
Even if the weather doesn’t co-operate for our photography, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be productive.
We can experiment, learn something new, work on some images in post processing or just go out and look for locations or spots to go back to when conditions are better.
I’ve heard it said that photography is a marathon, not a sprint, meaning that you don’t have to get fabulous images every time you go out. There are lots of ways to grow as a photographer and some of this growth can be achieved even when the weather is not the photographer’s friend.
Deciding to make images regardless of conditions has helped me to put less emphasis on the results and to experience the joy of the journey.
I hope that maybe I have inspired you to go out and do the same.
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