Bad weather can create great images. By Michael DeYoung
When making images I try to make three elements come together. These are: 1) great subject (landscape, animal, human, etc.), 2) great conditions (calm winds, fresh spring green or autumn colors, new snow, great clouds, etc.), and 3) great light!
Honestly, if you are in a target rich location like a scenic national park and you have screaming good light, it is easy to find subject matter to shoot. Most subjects photograph well in warm, soft beautiful light. What happens when the light sucks? What if it’s raining? Don’t put your camera away. Challenge yourself and shoot anyway! With the right technique and vision you can still make great images in the rain.
In cold, wet places like Alaska where I have been photographing for 29 years, you often have little choice. Alaska is a land of extremes and most of the time the light is either jaw dropping or horrible for days on end. You either live in frustration and rarely photograph, or adapt and learn to make good imagery in foul weather. So I learned to photograph in the rain.
Three years ago, while on a 500 mile hike in Washington, I had 10 days straight of horrible weather. I had to learn to let go of my visions of glowing North Cascade mountain peaks at sunrise that captivated my imagination and embrace the rain and snow, in July.
The desert Southwest which is normally blessed with many days of good to great light experienced a very wet winter this year. Near record precipitation and unseasonable cold took place for much of the 2018/2019 winter season. I made 4 trips to Zion last winter/spring and I saw and captured lots of rare scenes with heavy snow, flowing water, and reflections. On my most recent trip to Zion National Park in mid-May, I had 2 days of nearly constant rain.
I get more excited about bad weather in the desert and the challenge of doing something different. Heavy rain or snow is magical in the desert and almost always leads to something visually fantastic at the end of the storm cycle.
Working in rain and bleak weather forces you to see different, look a little deeper and employ other aspects of visual design to make interesting images. In the absence of light I focus on strong and interesting lines, complimentary and contrasting colors that are often more saturated when wet, and/or finding ways to emphasize dramatic clouds, especially low clouds below peak or rim level.
I use the same two filters for rainy landscapes that I use for great sunlight imagery. A polarizer removes glare from wet vegetation and wet rocks helping to really saturate colors. If I include any sky in my images, I try to capture sky mood and detail with a graduated neutral density filter. This often forces me to look more critically at my compositions so I can find a horizon line that works with the use of a graduated neutral density filter. On cloudy days I will typically use a soft stop rather than a hard edge grad ND to help disguise the use of the filter more.
Embrace the rain and grey to find and create good photos. Show some grit, mud, soaking wetness and moodiness. Sharpening your design skills in challenging weather only makes you a better shooter when the light is screaming at you!
Michael DeYoung is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes