Use the golden, warm light of sunrise and sunset to really give your stormy landscape shots a boost of drama.
Use a low horizon to give as much visual weight to the sky as you can.
Add context to the image by incorporating people, landforms, or buildings to show off the size or intensity of the storm.
Black and white compositions can be just as powerful as those in color. When the colors in the scene are too varied or intense, try converting the image to black and white.
It’s one thing to head into the great outdoors and take photos when the weather is clear, warm, and perfect. It’s another thing entirely to get the same high-quality results when it’s foggy, raining, or storming.
Yet despite the less than favorable conditions, bad weather presents many opportunities for incredible photos. You just have to have the right attitude and be up to the challenge! It also helps to have a few compositional tricks up your sleeve.
In this week’s PT Photography School Tip of the Week, we offer up a few tips for taking breathtaking landscape photos when the skies turn stormy.
Shoot During Golden Hour
Golden hour is a great time to shoot landscapes, regardless of the weather. But when there are ominous skies forming, the addition of warm, colorful light at dawn or dusk can really set your landscape images off. The light as the sun rises or sets gives the distant horizon a terrific glow while highlighting the texture of any storm clouds that are present. Additionally, the bright, warm colors of the sunrise or sunset offer a nice contrast with the dark, cool colors of the gathering storm, making for an intensely dramatic scene like the one above.
Make the Sky the Primary Subject
Often, landscape photos benefit from having strong foreground interest to draw the viewer in. However, in a thunderstorm, it’s typically better if you exclude other elements that might compete with the drama the skies are producing. Even when the sky is dark and foreboding, like the one in the image above, having it take center stage gives the image far more impact than if you were to include more of the foreground. By shifting the horizon line downward in the frame, you give viewers just enough context of the landscape, while maximizing the viewing area of the stormy skies.
But Don’t Be Afraid to Add Context
Even if the stormy sky is full of color, light, and texture, it can still benefit from having some context to really highlight the drama of the scene. Try finding elements that can speak to the size of the storm. Include a tree, a house, a vehicle, or even a large building, like the silo pictured above, that speak to the enormity of the storm. It also helps if the objects you use contrast with the storm in some way. For example, the silo above is bright white, which pops nicely against the dark sky. The silo is also relatively devoid of texture, so it doesn’t compete with the interesting cloud formations developing above it.
Don’t Be Afraid of Black and White
Storms don’t have to be photographed in color to achieve a dramatic result. Particularly when there are a lot of bright or intense colors in the scene, a black and white interpretation can actually help accentuate what’s unfolding in the skies. In the image above, a color version would have included the deep red of the barn, the bright gold of the foreground, and the deep greens of the groves of trees. Each of these elements might have overpowered this image, but when converted into black and white, the point of focus shifts to the billowing white clouds in the center of the frame. The barn, trees, and foreground then become supporting actors that give the image additional interest.
When you head out into a storm to take photos, it’s obviously very important to be prepared for the ensuing bad weather. Take a rain cover to protect your camera. Pack a tripod with a hook on the center column so you can weigh it down if the wind picks up. Keep lens cloths handy to wipe any moisture or dust off your lens so you’re sure to get a clear shot.
Don’t forget about protecting yourself as well. Take the appropriate rain gear and footwear so you’re as comfortable as you can be while out in the storm. And, of course, practice common sense and avoid flooded areas, keep your distance from dangerous weather like tornadoes, and keep away from exposed areas when lighting is present. If you plan your outings well, approach storms with common sense, and adhere to the tips discussed above, you will be more likely to get the stunning, moody photos like those pictured in this lesson.