We all want stunning sunset and sunrise skies, but nature doesn't always cooperate. Over the years, landscape photographer Ian Plant has developed a number of strategies for beating bad weather. Here are a few of his favorite bad weather photography tips.
I spent a week photographing the Canadian Rockies, just to get one brief moment of light and color. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 0.4 seconds, focus stack blend.
I'm writing this after spending an hour on the ice covering Abraham Lake in the Canadian Rockies. It was brutally cold (-10 F), windy (30+ mph sustained winds), and even worse, almost completely cloudy. I ventured out onto the ice hoping that the sun would find a way to break through the few small gaps in the clouds, but to no avail. Anyone who has ever made a trip to the Canadian Rockies in winter can attest to the fact that the weather is often very bad; a week can easily go by with nothing but heavy clouds and snow. Of course, the Canadian Rockies aren't the only place in the world with bad weather, and poor shooting conditions can strike anytime, anywhere. Over the years, I've developed several strategies for dealing with bad weather that can help you eke out a few good shots even when things look grim.
#1: Shoot subjects suited to the light
Cloudy and rainy days may not be great for colorful sunrise and sunset skies, but they work well for certain types of subjects. For example, overcast days are perfect for waterfalls, and a little bit of a drizzle can enhance the quality of the scene, darkening bright rocks and saturating colorful foliage (of course, waterfalls weren't an option for me in the Canadian Rockies in winter). Certain intimate subjects also work well in flat light, including the methane bubbles trapped in the ice on frozen Abraham Lake.
I got lazy and shot this with my iPhone. In all fairness, the wind was gusting at 40-50 mph, so the iPhone seemed to be the smartest way to safely make some quick abstract photos! The flat overcast light was perfectly suited for this intimate composition.
#2: Find a way to make the light work for the scene
Gloomy weather might not be what you came for, but sometimes it can enhance the mood. With a little creativity, you can find a way to make it work to your advantage. Flat overcast skies might not give you much to work with, but if the clouds have texture and definition, then you can still make good photos even if you don't get any color or light.
Even though the skies were completely gray, there was enough texture in the clouds for me to keep shooting. I got low and close to a dynamic pattern of methane bubbles with a wide-angle lens. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/30 second, focus stack blend.
#3: Wait for breaks in the weather
Even on the cloudiest days, you'll often get short, unexpected periods of clearing. Aim to be on location as much as possible and you'll be in a position to take advantage of these brief openings. Ideally, you'll get a moment of clearing around sunrise or sunset; even a little bit of light breaking through can add some much needed color to your background scenery.
Even just a brief break in the weather can let some light shine through. You don't always need an epic sunset sky, sometimes all you need is a bit of light at the right moment. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/40 second, focus stack blend.
#4: Shoot twilight for (blue) color
Gray skies mean gray light, which for many subjects isn't very flattering. It you shoot during the morning or evening twilight, however, you'll get a lot more blue light than during the day. This can help add some much needed color to an overcast scene. Just remember to set your white balance to the Daylight preset or cooler to reveal the blue color; otherwise, your camera's automatic white balance might try to warm up the scene and render it a neutral gray.
When processing this twilight photo, I set my white balance to the Daylight preset to give the scene a cool color cast. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 0.3 seconds, focus stack blend.
#5: Emphasize composition
Okay, you should always be emphasizing composition. When bad weather prevails, however, you need to really emphasize composition. In other words, you need to look for extremely strong graphic designs to compensate for the lack of light and color.