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Weather and Photography

An article about the weather's effect on photography - and how to adapt as a photographer to get the pictures right.

overcast 4 °C

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What makes the difference between these two pictures of the same beach - at two different times?
Only one thing - the first shot was taken with the weather in mind - thereby making it a pretty good photo, and the other was not.

This article will serve with ways of how to improve your photography by adapting to the weather - a sometimes very hard thing to do. Basically there are three different aspects of the weather to think of, and they will be explained in order:

1. Lighting - how the current weather affects the light in a photo
2. Atmosphere - how the weather gives a photo atmosphere
3. Effects on motive - how motives can be directly influenced by weather

Lighting

The weather affects your picture in many ways - but maybe most of all it determines how your picture will be lit. A landscape shot on a cloudy and on a rainy day will turn out differently from a landscape shot in bright sunlight. Let's take a look at three common light situations - the Direct sunlight, the Overcast and the Morning & Evening light.

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Direct sunlight

When the sun is glowing bright in the sky - with no clouds to shield it - a photographer is very limited. This type of sunlight casts sharp shadows that make most shots involving people very hard to get right - you always get disturbing shadows in people's faces.
The same problem occurs when shooting scenes - often big parts of the picture are shadowy - while others are very bright. See the above as an example - the line between shadow and highlight is dramatic, which makes it almost impossible to even make out what the sign in the photo says.

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Overcast

When the sun is covered behind clouds - sometimes making the sky totally white - many photographers put their camera back in the bag, thinking there's no use photographing a sky that isn't blue. This is when you should take the camera up. Overcast conditions often provide a perfect lighting to the scene at hand - gently smoothing everything out without creating sharp shadows or extreme contrasts. As long as you're not taking landscape shots where the sky is extremely important - this is the time to act. Portraits of people, macro-shots of flowers - even the occasional shot of some animal running by - are bound to turn out better than in direct sunlight. Know this - and use it to your benefit.

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Morning & Evening light

This is probably the favourite setting of many a photographer - and mine as well. In early mornings just before sunrise and in evenings just about sundown there seems to be magic in the air. Not just do you get the advantages of overcast situations - you also get beautiful colours playing on faces and scenes. In the above photo of a series of mountains you can clearly see the effects of sundown on the clouds - they're smooth and vividly coloured, something direct sunlight could never come up with.

Atmosphere

The weather has a great influence over a picture's atmosphere. First of all the weather determines the lighting (as described in the previous chapter) - but the wind and temperature also dictates conditions that affect the setting. Add to that the eventual rain, snow, fog etc - and you see that the term atmosphere is a very wide aspect of photography.

So, when you've got the hang of different light situations it's time to use it to create the feeling you want - to give the photo an atmosphere. This is a hard thing to plan for - as very few people can actually control the weather ( ;) ). And as always when you head out to get those perfect stormy/windy shots of an ocean - you arrive only to see the calmest ocean-surface in history. But that, I guess, is another problem ;)

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A very boring atmosphere

The atmosphere in the picture above is not very lively. But it's got one thing - potential. On a stormy day - with dramatic cloud-filled skies, a tearing wind and tall waves that break against the rock face - this picture would probably come out better. Think of that, when you pass by motifs that at the time seem very boring. Remember the place - and come back at the right time ;)

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A simple atmosphere

Sometimes the "right" atmosphere for a photograph can be as simple as the above. Taken on an ordinary day, in direct sunlight, the picture is very plain - a road, a meadow and a background of mountains. No dramatic weather or mysterious fog. It is important to note that the most simple solution sometimes is the best solution. So when a plain atmosphere is at hand, there is absolutely no need to chase wierd weather conditions to improve your pictures.

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A complete atmosphere

The above picture depicts a very well documented atmosphere. The lighting gives a feeling of early morning - while the snow gives a feeling of tranquillity. Note that if there had been a heavy snowfall, the picture would have given very different vibes. Also - if there had been a fog, it would give a more dangerous impression, since people often relate mists to uncertainty. The picture depicts what the photographer wanted to mediate - a cool, calm and inviting winter morning. When the atmosphere aspect is correctly used, it really strengthens the will to "walk into" a picture.

Important to note however, is that the general atmosphere of a photograph is greatly influenced also by other aspects. No matter how inviting a picture is, if a child is crying in the centre of attention in the photo - people will associate to that first, making the general atmosphere of your picture seem sad.

Effects on motive

It is very important not to stare yourself blind on only the lighting and atmosphere - you have to think about the effects on the motif as well. If you're chasing smiles and happy faces - don't do it on a rainy day. When the skies open themselves, people crouch and don't look up as much as on sunny days. But if you're out to photograph "sad" pictures, i.e. lonely streets, be sure to choose a windy and unpleasant day - this way you don't run into as many crowds as other days. The picture beneath is a good example - since it's raining people walk around a bit crouched, and some even have umbrellas. It sure wouldn't look like this in summer.

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The motif (the people) are affected by rain

The weather's effects on the motives really involves everything - people wear different clothing and react differently to different weather conditions - and you probably can't take a picture of a bird in the air on a rainy day. Safe to say - it's probably impossible to take a picture of a happy man in flip-flops while there are stormy clouds and flashes of lightning in the background. If you manage to do this, email me ;)

Conclusion

When photographing, keep these weather aspect in mind:

Lighting - Timing is crucial. "Plan" your photographs, and if this means waking up early to get good morning-light-shots - Just Do It!
Atmosphere - Paint the picture you have in mind by using the weather. Use the clouds, the fog or even a clear blue sky to make your image depict your feeling!
Effects on motives - Don't forget this. People and animals are always affected in one way or another by the weather.

Text and photographs, © Martin Edström 2007 - http://www.makini.se

Posted by Makini 22:09 Archived in Sweden Tagged photography

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Comments

A great article Martin and nicely illustrated by the photos. I'm going to go try and find a smily guy wearing flip flops with stormy clouds behind him now. I'm sure I can do it in Melbourne ... Hehe

by Peter

Martin, the photos have gone missing? :(

by Sam I Am

Oops! I must've deleted them from my server! Now they're back up again :)

by Makini

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