I once had a cycling coach who had a saying that has stuck with me for years: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.
Most people have probably heard that saying, or something like it, applied to various sports and recreational past-times – but it also applies to photography. Well, sorta. I can’t advocate that you go out and shoot in a tsunami or tornado, but if you can do it in a safe manner and get the shot, kudos to you. Well, maybe not “kudos” but I’ll respect your choice, because some of the best images come from shooting in less-than-ideal conditions.
“Bad weather” doesn’t have to be something that is life-threatening; it could be as simple as getting out on a really foggy morning, shooting in the falling snow, rain, etc.
Anyone can get out there and shoot on a sunny, warm day. It takes getting out of your comfort zone to get out there and shoot in bad weather. It helps if you are prepared with the proper clothing and gear, but 99% of it is actually just getting yourself out there and doing it.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned….and in some cases, still learning:
1. Dress properly for the conditions. This means rain gear if its raining, good winter clothing in layers if its cold, etc, etc. I can’t stress enough the importance of layering, especially if you are hiking around with a heavy pack of gear in changing conditions. Also, shoe choice and glove choice are critical if its cold/wet. I will usually wear waterproof hiking boots (LaSportiva brand) with high cuffs and wool socks. I usually will have a spare pair of socks and boots in the car in case I come back fully soaked. Gloves are critical – and people have all sorts of different ideas on what they like. Given my cycling background, I tend to wear thinner neoprene full-fingered gloves from Pearl Izumi that allow me to use the camera buttons and controls. Some people prefer those type of gloves that have removable fingers. I think they are “ok”, but I usually end up with a really cold finger or two if its below freezing outside.
2. Know that your gear is going to get wet or dirty. Do your best to protect it, but know that cameras and lenses are tools and meant to be used. Unless you are super concerned about resale value, they aren’t doing you any good sitting on the shelf and only coming out to play on perfect days. Have several micro-fiber towels with you to keep lenses and viewfinders free of water drops.
3. Bring a tripod. Light is usually low in bad weather conditions, and having a tripod with you allows you to get the best image possible at the lowest ISO/ASA that you can. You should also have an umbrella in your pack you can hold above the camera and tripod to keep it as dry as possible.
4. Check your exposure. Bad conditions often wreak havoc with camera exposure logic and often times you need to use that grey mass between your ears to get the image correctly. A perfect example is snow; your camera will tend to under-expose in snow and you end up with dingy-looking grey stuff instead of white snow. In those conditions you learn to over-expose by a stop or two to compensate. When in doubt check your histogram. If you are shooting digital it doesn’t cost you any more to shoot until you get it right.
5. Consider Black & White as an editing choice (or b&w film, if you are shooting film). Often times the muted colors and light don’t look good in bad weather images, but punchy black & white images will help communicate the drama that you were experiencing that day.
6. Break the rules. Often times the weather IS the star of the image, so remember that when you are out there shooting. No one is going to care about the “rule of thirds” if you nail that awesome image of a tornado with lightning all around it and cows flying through the air. OK, maybe that was a little extreme but you get the idea.
7. Keep at it. Don’t just go out once and then stop if you don’t come home with a great image. Often times is being in the right place at the right time; and you aren’t going to make that happen unless you are out there time after time trying to get something.
8. Don’t be stupid. This is one I am still learning. Mother Nature IS unpredictable. If you put yourself in a situation that makes you feel unsafe – you probably should reconsider what you are doing at that moment. There have been several times in the past that I’ve come home and after telling my significant other about the shoot I’ve realized that I had made some poor decisions. Don’t be like me.
That’s it! Some of this is probably common sense for many but some of it I’ve had to learn by putting myself out there and/or making mistakes.
Thanks for reading, and please reach out if you have any questions, thanks!