How to Take Photos in Bad Weather Conditions (Part 2) |

How to Take Photos in Bad Weather Conditions (Part 2)

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10 February 2011

Last week I have written a blog post about how to photograph in bad weather conditions. It appeared that “bad” may not be the right word as a lot of great photos are taken in different conditions than sunny with a slight breeze.
After discussing a couple of conditions, it occurred to me that I had more to talk about than I initially thought, so I decided to split the post up in two.
Here is part two of How to Take Photos in Bad - or “different” as you like - Weather Conditions.

Snow is great for photographers, especially for those who are interested in nature or landscape photography. It shows a certain place in a different way than most people are used to, and the whiteness of the snow puts the available colors in a nice contrast.

If you have already tried to make photos of snowy places, it may have happened that your snow has a more grayish or blueish tint instead of the bright white like you remember it.
For your camera, it’s difficult to understand what snow is and how it should work with it. It appears to be like a secondary light source.
When the snowy area is in shade or it is very cloudy, your camera will convert the white into blue. This is because it chooses the wrong white balance.
You can read everything about white balance in part one of this post.
Some cameras will have a white balance setting called “snow” which would solve this problem immediately. If your camera doesn’t have this, try to set it to shade or cloudy.

Other times your snow will look a bit - or a lot - gray, and the other objects appear to be silhouettes in your image.
I don't want to go into much detail here, so you’ll have to accept the fact that almost every object has an 18% gray value, which means that the light that is reflected by the object contains  18% gray.
Your camera has been calibrated on this value so when it notices snow - which happens to be an object that does not reflect 18% gray - it thinks that there is way too much light. So it darkens the image like it should do in “normal” conditions.
When you’re photographing snowy places - or white objects in general - try to overexpose a couple of stops to get white snow instead of gray. You will also notice that the other elements will look more decent too.
But, keep a close eye on your histogram so you don’t have any burned out areas.

Now you know how to make your snow nice and white, but none of this will work when you don’t protect your camera against the cold.
Cold weather can cause batteries to lose energy more quickly. Therefore it’s better to keep your camera close to your body, keep an extra battery pack in you pockets, or remove the batteries from your camera while not shooting.
When you bring the camera back inside, you’ll need to give it time to acclimatize in a room with very little heating, otherwise condensation can form in the camera which can cause serious damage.
If your camera has condensation, turn it off and wait until it goes away. The worst thing you can do is take it back outside, any type of moisture in the camera will then freeze and damage your equipment.

When you’re driving your car, fog can be a real pain in the ass, but for photographers it’s often a nice bonus - unless it’s hiding Machu Picchu for you.
Fog adds a mysterious atmosphere to your photos.
Imagine an old castle.
Now imagine that same castle but surrounded by veils of mist.
I don’t know how good your imagination is, but there should be a difference, one that’s in favor of the fog.
To find fog, you may have to get up quite early or stay up quite late, as it happens most often between late in the evening and early in the morning.

It is essential to keep in mind that fog is actually a large bunch of very dense little water drops. These reflect the light, so your subject will receive light from a much bigger area than it would have from a street light or from the sun. The consequence is that you will lose contrast and saturation. You’ll notice that there will be little or no shadows for example.

What is it good for?
First of all to create the before mentioned mystic atmosphere, but there is more.
Fog can be used to create depth in your images. Objects that are close to you will look closer because they are in front of the fog and objects further away will be within the fog and look like they are much further.
Because light is diffused, you can use the fog be emphasizing the light. If you take a photo of a street light on a clear evening, you’ll see a little glowing square. If you take the same photo of a light covered with fog, the light will be much more spread and will catch the eye much easier.

When there’s also some wind, the fog will constantly move and change texture. By shooting with a real slow shutter speed - more than 30 seconds - you will make the fogged area much smoother. Similar to shooting moving water with a slow shutter speed.

As fog is also moisture, take care that you don’t expose the camera much more than necessary and give it time to dry after shooting.

Now, this might blow your mind, but bright skies are also a bad weather condition, for photographers that is.
With a bright sky, the sun will provide too much light during almost the whole day. When the sun is high up, your images can have too much contrast and look overly saturated and there is a high chance for burned out highlights.

Unfortunately, the hours when the sun is high up are often those when we want to take photos.

There are a couple of easy tricks to solve this problem.
You could move with your subject to the shade, or you could create your own shade by using umbrellas, large plastic sails, nearby trees or buildings or different kinds of clothing.
Easy like that, but what if your subject is not movable?
You could wait until the sun goes down, but chances are that you won’t come home with a lot of photos if you have to wait every time.
A solution could be to change perspective, if you turn your back to the sun or shoot from above, you’re more likely to shoot decent photos. Or if you have a couple of bucks to spend you could invest in a polarizing or neutral density filter, which will decrease the amount of light that gets into your camera.
If that is also not an option, you can always go for a nice silhouette.

Remember to always adjust your white balance settings - if you haven’t read part one of this post yet, now is certainly a good time - when you’re moving from direct light to shade.

If these tips have been of any help to you or you have other tips or comments, let me know.

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