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Bad Weather is Good for Photography — by Nicole S. Young

Today on Answers by CanvasPop we’re featuring an article written by our friend, photographer Nicole S. Young. Nicole is a member of the CanvasPop Pro Community. She’s a full-time photographer based in Seattle, who’s also an author, poet and dreamer. We love her work!

When the weather outside is cold, rainy, snowy, or just plain miserable, our tendency is usually to stay indoors. We want to keep warm and stay dry, but as a photographer it’s very likely that you’re missing out on some wonderful photographic opportunities. Now, I’m not suggesting that you run outside with your camera the moment it starts to pour rain or dump snow; after all there is a little bit of common sense you should apply to your shooting to keep your gear from getting damaged and your toes from being frostbitten. What I am suggesting, however, is to keep an open mind about days when the weather is a little bit different than you were expecting.

For example, not too long ago I was planning on photographing the fall colors at a mill in Washington with a few of my friends. It had already started to rain, and the weather called for rain throughout the day in the area we would be shooting, but this didn’t stop us. When we got to the location the rain was still coming down, so we found a nice place where we had a bit of shelter and a good place to photograph the scene. Since we wanted to capture the fall colors, we actually got lucky with the rain—the leaves were wet and it made their colors much more bold, and also added a nice shine to them as well.

Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm lens, 8 sec at f/32, ISO 100
The rain added shine and color to the moss, rocks and leaves for this autumn photograph by a stream.

Along with rain there are several other types of inclement weather to take advantage of with your camera, so here are just some of those occasions when they can add beauty to a photograph:

Rain: While it may not be fun to actually be outside in the rain with your camera, the rain that you want to avoid can actually add a huge amount of impact to your images. Rain adds shine to surfaces (such as rocks and concrete) and makes colors “pop”. Also, to keep your gear safe from the elements you may want to consider getting a rain sleeve for your camera and lens. They come in different types, from the more expensive “permanent” solution (a solid, reusable rain cover) to the less expensive temporary plastic rain sleeve. I have both, but tend to prefer the less expensive rain sleeve, typically costing around $10 USD for a pack of two—they’re small and portable, which helps them to fit in my camera bag easily. Also, be sure to bring a few extra microfiber cloths for your lens, as the rain and humidity may want to fog them up while you’re shooting.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200mm lens, 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800
The mist and fog added depth and texture to this photograph.

Mist and Fog: Before or after it rains, or in the early morning, you may get mist and fog. Both of these elements can do wonders for photographs. In fact, they can take a mediocre scene and turn it into a glorious landscape. Fog and mist add depth, layers, and also provide a beautiful medium for light to pass through and linger inside of in the early morning hours of the day, creating beams of mist-filled light coming through trees or in-between buildings. The key is to get up early, or be outdoors when you have a nice dose of fog rolling through, and then try to catch the moments when the sun decides to peek through. If you don’t get any sunlight though, don’t sweat it! You can find just as many beautiful compositions with the fog as a nice addition to your images.

Lightning: If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with lightning storms, then why not photograph them! You can get some really unique images from doing a little bit of storm chasing—the key is to stay far enough away from the storm to not get drenched by the rain, or struck by lightening! Many storms happen at a distance, so if you can find one in your area you should be able to set up and get a few images before it moves too far away. Here are some quick tips for photographing lightning: in terms of gear, be sure that you have a solid tripod and a good cable release. You’ll want to photograph these images in the Bulb mode on your camera; to do so set your aperture and frame your shot, then press the shutter and hold it until you see the lightening streak across the sky. Then release the shutter and preview your image on the back of your camera. From here you can make adjustments to your aperture or ISO, depending on how bright or dark your overall scene is.

 Canon 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm lens, 1/60 sec at f/11, ISO 100
While photographing these flower fields, I was hoping for beautiful sunny days. Instead I got some amazing storm clouds, which ended up adding to my scene resulting in a unique and beautiful image.

Clouds: Sunny days are always nice, but when it comes to photographing landscapes inclement weather can be a godsend. Oftentimes you don’t even need rain or a storm to have beautiful clouds, just an old-fashioned gloomy day. But if you do have a nice storm during the day, watch for the sunset that night—oftentimes the most beautiful sunsets come after a day of rain and clouds; when you have just enough clouds in the sky to hide the sky, but also allow the sun through, then the sunset has something to bounce all of its colors off of.

Nicole S. Young is a full-time photographer and author currently living in Seattle, Washington. She specializes in food and stock photography and licenses her images through iStockphoto and Getty Images. You can find Nicole on her blogGoogle+ and Twitter.