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Is Good Photography Possible In Bad Weather? - Is there such thing as the wrong weather for photography? John Gravett finds out.
How many times a year do I hear those immortal words "Oh, it's a bit dull for photography today" or some variation of them? No, no, no.... There is no such thing as bad weather, only different types of lighting.
The biggest problem about landscape photography on days that are "unpleasant" is what goes on in your mind. If you look out and think "It's dull" then you will take dull pictures, and usually not simply dull in terms of lighting, but dull compositionally, because you are starting with a negative attitude, and that's if you even bother to go out the front door!
I've been shooting in the studio a bit lately, and I use a 1m x 1m softbox, with either fill lights or reflectors, to give gentle, shadow-free lighting, rather than harsh shadows. Think of this in terms of landscape, a sunny day gives harsh shadows, and high contrasts, often too harsh for certain subjects; an overcast "dull" day, gives gentle, subtle, shadow free lighting but often still directional, with good details throughout, like in the studio.. Think more "watercolour" or even Japanese-style painting, to visualise the pastel effects that can be attained.
Rain can be exciting too, as it often softens distant details, enabling the foreground or mid-ground of a landscape to be isolated from the otherwise distracting background. There are locations in the Lakes I prefer on rainy days as they allow me a "high key" result. Conversely, stormy days with heavy skies can offer the opportunity of silhouetting elements such as trees against a powerful, cloudy sky.
Rain will, of course, create more flow for streams and waterfalls, and the lack of strong, contrasty light can enable shadow and highlight detail to be retained more readily than on a sunny day. A polarising filter can suppress unwanted reflections of an overcast sky and can create really exciting images.
Wind can also work to your advantage, I often photograph at the Cumbrian coast, and a windy day can cause interesting sand patterns on a receding tide, or wind-blown sand can be really interesting (although remember to protect your camera from the wind, and don't change lenses when there's loads of sand blowing around! Grasses blown in the wind, with a slow shutter speed to emphasise the movement will bring across the feeling of the weather on the day.
The top tips I would give for days of less than "ideal" lighting are:
- Go out with an open mind, don't try to pre-plan your photos.
- React to the lighting (however "subtle") - you can only work with the lighting that is there, so don't "feel down" about the conditions – or this will reflect in your photos.
- Think pastel tones rather than overcast.
- Choose your subject carefully – some images work better in "bad" weather than others.
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