Overcome Weather and Time-of-Day Obstacles

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night…”

Weather Photography TechniquesThe quote is in reference to postal carriers. But what about photographers?

Do you let the weather stop you? Okay, admittedly, I do. But sometimes there’s no option. In fact, often I’ve gotten my best shots during unfavorable weather conditions. The following are tips for great shots in different weather or time-of-day situations.

Snow

 

Too cold? Cut the fingertips off some gloves so you can still work your camera yet avoid freezing your hands off.  Ok, enough about you… When a meter reads snow, it thinks the scene is brightly lit (snow is a natural reflector). It thinks you’re looking at a gray object in a bright lighting situation.

Problem: If you don’t have the exact right exposure and white balance, the snow will look gray.

Solution: Overexpose the shot slightly. You can do this manually or use your camera’s exposure compensation feature (see your camera’s user’s guide).  Use a picture of the snow to set your white balance (again, see your user’s guide). Make sure you take a picture of an area that is consistently white (no dark spots).  Or, you could use a white balance card (gray card) to set both your exposure and white balance.

Rainy/Cloudy Day

 

I can’t count how many times I’ve been driving in the car on a cloudy day when it’s been raining off and on said out loud, “I wish I had my camera. This is perfect light!”

Advantages:

  • Clouds are a natural sunlight diffuser. They make shadows softer, or eliminate them entirely.
  • Depending on how much sunlight gets through, this lighting situation can also make it easier to achieve vivid colors and perfect skin tones.
  • Cloudy days can make your macro and landscape photography more interesting too.

Disadvantages (and how to overcome them):

  • First off, the biggest worry to me is always my equipment. Many newer SLRs have weather-sealed bodies that help protect the camera from moisture. But, being “better safe than sorry,” you can get a rain cover. Make sure all your cases are waterproof too.
  • I make sure to park near where I’m shooting so I can keep my equipment in the car.
  • I did an engagement shoot on a rainy day – I just worked the umbrella in as a fun prop, and the couple didn’t get soaked.

Tip: If you want to take a picture of a rainbow, use a circular polarizer on your lens to get more vibrant colors.

Sun

I admit, there’s a point at which heat stops me. Flushed, sweaty faces just aren’t that attractive in pictures. And in the desert heat I’m afraid my camera will melt. So let’s talk about the sun…

Problem: The sun is causing harsh shadows on your subject.

Solution: Overpower the sun!

With your flash turned off, meter for the scene, then set your exposure so you’ll underexpose the shot a couple stops. (i.e. If the meter indicates you should use a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second at an aperture of f/11, then set your exposure for 1/200 of a second f/16 or f/22). Now, use your flash to light your subject, raising or lowering the power until it looks right (hurray for nice, big LCD screens!)

Another solution is to shoot in the shade or use a diffuser.

Night

 

These tips are really for twilight – not the book/movie, but the time where night just begins to take over. [See above photo by Rachael Olson]

 

Problem: The sky looks awesome (that’s not the problem). But you want people in the shot and they’re too dark in the image. If you wanted a silhouette it would be cool – but you don’t.

Solution: Once again, use your flash. Set your exposure so that the sky looks fantastic. Then use your flash to light up your subjects. This may take a little guess-and-check with the viewfinder as your tool.

 

Check out our low light digital photography post discussing shooting using ambient light at night, so check it out.

Don’t let the weather or time of day deter you… You’ll miss out on opportunities for amazing shots!

Any other tips for these or other weather conditions? Please leave a comment.