When the weather turns south, many of us run for shelter and stay inside. Whether wind, rain, snow, or some other less than ideal conditions, it just doesn’t seem all that inviting for photography.
While being out in poor weather might be a bit uncomfortable, there are some landscapes that actually benefit from conditions that are on the stormy side, including beaches, waterfalls, and forests.
Photographing waterfalls under clear skies presents a whole host of challenges, not the least of which is the intense, contrasty light you get under a clear, blue sky. But waiting for some cloud cover associated with bad weather opens up all sorts of possibilities for photographing waterfalls.
With clouds present, the light immediately becomes softer and more diffuse. With no harsh shadows or reflections to deal with, you can take both short and long exposures without the risk of having an overexposed image. You might even be able to take your photos without the use of a filter, as the light will be so soft and dim. However, if it’s raining, it’s not a bad idea to use a polarizing filter, just to cut down on any bright spots reflecting off the wet surfaces in your shot.
Forests represent another ideal bad weather subject because of all the visual details present in the forest scene. The shape of tree trunks, the color of foliage, and the subtle areas of light and shadow in a forest all come to the forefront when the weather turns bad. A foggy forest, for example, forces the eye to inspect the details listed above because the fog provides a stopping point for the eye. Rather than gazing deep into the shot, the viewer is all but forced to appreciate the little details in what they can actually see in the forest.
Another advantage of heading to a forest in bad weather is that you can simulate the darker, moody effects of photographing such scenes before sunrise or after sunset. As noted above, when clouds are present, the light is soft and diffuse, much as it is early in the morning or late in the evening, though the color temperature is far different. Nevertheless, cloud cover means you can take advantage of that soft, diffuse lighting, even during the middle of the day.
As great as a cloudy sky is from a lighting perspective, it doesn’t make for a very visually interesting image. Take the image above as an example. Though there is some contrast in the clouds that give them depth, there is no strong subject to grab the attention of the viewer.
Contrast the first image with the one above. By including foreground and background areas of interest, this shot of a cloudy scene is far more engaging to look at. The sagebrush in the foreground moves the eye toward the middle ground of the shot where the falling rain meets the horizon line. The mountains in the background give the image more depth as well. It’s a far more dynamic image than if it had been framed to only include the sky.
So, if you want to take advantage of cloudy or stormy conditions, avoid framing your shot only of the skies above. Instead, include foreground and background interest in the shot, and head to a forest or waterfall to take advantage of the wonderful, soft lighting that less than ideal weather conditions often affords you. You might just find that getting out in the bad weather conditions becomes your favorite time to photograph landscapes!