As photographers, we are slaves to the weather. We plan our shoots around the latest updates from the weather channel, we poke our heads out of the window before heading off on location. But did you ever stop to think a little more about why?
Yes, the idea of standing in the freezing rain to shoot a vaguely interesting building might put you off for the day but if we go deeper, we can see just how important weather is to the way we take images.
Today we are going to take a look at weather and its relationship with our photography.
Light and Shade.
Let’s start with the obvious, the way the weather creates light and shade for our images.
Non-photographers will often say the best time to shoot is in the middle of a sunny day. As we gain a little experience in photography we realize sunny days are ok, but a clear blue sky can make a picture look very bland.
Furthermore, daylight in the middle of the day is often hard and very unflattering to our subjects. Clear skies and sunlight work best when the sun is lower in the sky, casting longer and softer shadows on our subjects.
Often better than clear skies are partly cloudy days. Here the sun’s light can be tempered by shadows from the clouds. This is particularly useful in landscape photography where the shadows of those clouds create a feeling of depth in the scene.
Some of the most evocative landscapes are ones taken with a low sun shining through clouds and casting long deep shadows over the countryside.
The weather can have a big effect on our colour or white balance. Our camera’s default setting is to read the colour of light at midday – 5500k and to base its adjustments around that figure.
When you have a deeply overcast day, however, the light becomes very blue. Sometimes the auto white balance can be fooled by this and overcompensate it. This is why we have presets for cloud and shade and also the ability to set the degrees K manually.
Similarly, a sunset with scattered clouds can produce a very red/yellow light that tends to be neutralized by our white balance. Again by setting a manual balance we can return the sunset to its full glory.
Snow can fool both our exposure meters and colour meters. The brightness of snow can cause an image to become underexposed and the whiteness of the snow to become grey. In bright sunshine, the colour meter can often get fooled into making the snow too blue.
We maybe don’t think about the weather as a compositional tool too much, but we should. Ever wondered why scattered white clouds on a blue sky look better than a pure blue sky?
It's because they hold our eyes from leaving the shot, they are a natural frame to our image.
As mentioned before, low sun with clouds cast long shadows on a landscape. Not only do these add dimension but they can create leading lines, drawing our eyes through the shot and towards our subject.
Rain or just after the rain is a great time for puddles, these give us access to symmetrical shots through reflections.
Snow is a great time for using colour in our compositions, we can find elements of bright saturated colour poking out from a blanket of white snow.
All of the above weather elements contribute towards the mood of a photo. A bright sunny day will reflect an optimistic mood. Warm tones and yellow light give us a feeling we want to be there.
Similarly, the yellows and oranges of a sunset sky give us a mood of reflection on the day past. Stormy skies give us a feeling of foreboding, perhaps a sense of melancholy as summer slips into autumn.
The blueness of deep overcast or rainy days can create a longing to be at home or a feeling of looking forward to better days. Fog and mist are wonderful weather elements for creating a sense of mystery, they make the viewer question what is hidden.
Weather is not usually overlooked by the outdoor photographer, but its importance is often underestimated.
By understanding how the weather relates to our compositions we can learn to work with it to get better images.