Unlike other hobbies, photographers can go out in all weathers and make the best of a bad situation. Despite what some people may think, rain doesn’t necessarily have to put a dampener on proceedings and can actually lend itself to creating some emotive landscapes or enticing abstracts. Likewise – many non-photographers may praise the bright skies as a blessing, but harsh sunlight can often be a hindrance rather than a help – especially where portraits are concerned. With that in mind we’ve put together a brief ‘how-to’ of working with the elements.
On sunny days the best times to shoot are mornings and evenings, but there are a few ways of working with the midday light too. For starters move in closer, focus on details and if you can shade the subject in some way this will help to avoid shadows. For example if you are shooting your children on a beach – have someone hold a towel above their head to block the sun, or if you are capturing a close up of a flower turn your back on the sun and shade the subject with your body. Even your handy reflector can double as a small but useful shade. In these circumstances always remember to alter the white balance accordingly to the ‘shade’ or ‘cloudy’ options to warm images and remove cooler tones.
If shade isn’t an option in your immediate surroundings consider using flash or a reflector to fill in the shadows to regain those all important details. Furthermore this effect can be particular dramatic with portraits, especially if you place your subject with their back to the sun and fire the flash towards them, this will even out contrast issues and ensure your subject isn’t lost in shadow. If you are shooting in or around water during midday a polariser filter can be of great benefit as it will neatly saturate blue skies, whiten clouds, reduce glare and eliminate unwanted reflections. Alternatively – experiment with silhouettes.
Your environment can dramatically alter after the rain has passed and there is surely no better time to explore new and exciting opportunities when the light reappears after a downpour. Colours are saturated and textures magnified, so using a polarizer can really exaggerate the effect.
A timely rain shower can powerfully transform the mundane into the magical – especially with macro and abstract shots; for example that cobweb dabbed with rain drops has a greater impact than before or that fresh rose bud glittered with pearls of rain screams poetry.
Don’t be afraid to crop and sharpen the image later to add extra interest.
As with any climate – it is important to protect your gear. If you are caught off guard and find yourself in a sudden shower hide your equipment under your clothes or if possible always travel with plastic carrier bags and elastic bands; simply tear a hole for the lens to protrude through and create one at the rear for the viewfinder or LCD screen to appear, use the bands to keep everything in place. It’s not the most professional option but it works and never leave home without a lens cloth!
Dull and overcast days
When confronted with a drab and dreary day, consider creating an emotive black and white image, this can be especially powerful if there is a canvas of snow on the ground. Shoot these scenes with a small aperture to keep the scene crisp throughout and of course don’t forget the tripod.
If you find yourself without one and there is nothing you can use as a substitute (e.g. wall, person, camera bag, etc) then boost the ISO to counteract the lack of light and likelihood of shake. The monochromatic transformation within an editing suite can infuse drama and if you are feeling bold, tweak contrast to enhance it further.
Working in cold environments won’t only physical exhaust you, but will also deplete the batteries in your camera, so pack a few spare, fully-charged batteries and keep them as close to your body as possible when not in use.
Exposing a snow scene correctly can be quite a challenge; underexpose and you’ll have a grey canvas, overexpose and you’ll lose details. If you plan to edit your images your best route may be to manually white balance, shoot in RAW and bracket exposures.
Like dull and overcast days, snow scenes can look jaw-droppingly emotive in black and white, however they can look dazzling in colour too, for example at sunrise or sunset the white canvas enigmatically reflects the skies’ pink, purple, yellow, orange and red hues or even in the midday sun with wide blue skies. To inject some creativity here, switch your white balance to ‘Cloudy’ to add extra warmth to the scene or opt for ‘Sunny’ to cool it.
When you return to a warmer location there is a risk your lens will suffer with condensation, so leave the camera in the camera bag near the front door or entrance and gradually move it in to the centre of the home in stages, thus warming it back up slowly.