Some of the most amazing photographs you’ll ever see are of Mother Nature in motion. Weather is a fascinating subject to photograph because of the incredible effect it has on the environment, such as rain, storms, wind, hail, snow and rainbows. Freezing the movement of clouds and waves, and capturing the colour of the sky before a storm is something that can only be done with photography.
However, if there’s one thing you truly need to photograph weather, it’s patience. Photographing weather means that you’re dealing with something that can’t be controlled so it’s best to focus on mastering the things that you can control.
1. Minimise your gear, keep things simple
Photographing weather is different to other subjects because there is a safety factor involved. It’s silly to think that some people buy top of the line waterproof cases for their cameras but don’t do the same thing to protect themselves from the weather. When I first started shooting videos professionally, I invested in heavy-duty anti-slip waterproof boots that have been with me to mountains, volcanoes, rivers and beaches. Another thing that I always keep in my camera bag is a lightweight waterproof poncho that does a really good job of protecting myself and my camera, too.
Make sure to minimise the gear you take with you on location to give you the flexibility to run for cover when necessary. Shooting weather means you’ll probably be dealing with low light conditions and slow shutter speeds so always bring a tripod with you, but make sure you bring one that has a reliable quick release plate - you don’t want to be fiddling around with this when it is time to run for cover.
Also, remember to be wise about your lens selection. I recommend bringing only one lens because having to change lenses in the middle of a storm will most likely wreck your camera. A lens that can go from telephoto to wide angle is the best one to take.
2. Always shoot in manual mode
A camera in automatic mode usually goes a bit crazy when shooting weather. This is because there are so much things going on at the same time that it usually doesn’t know what it needs to capture to get the best results so you need to switch to manual. The general rule of thumb when shooting weather is to use a bigger aperture to compensate for low light conditions and keep the framing wide to anticipate the movement of your scenery.
Manually change your focus to infinity because digital cameras are weak when it comes to focusing in dark environments.
Shooting lightning can be tricky because you never know where lightning will strike. To be practical, start scouting for good locations before the storm hits. A spot that is close to shelter, with a good view of the sky and unobtrusive foregrounds and backgrounds, will look good in the final photograph.
Remember to set your ISO to the lowest value (not AUTO) and set the camera to a long exposure. If you are shooting near a city with bright lights around you, set the shutter speed to 3 to 5 seconds and f/8 and see how the image comes out. If you are shooting in a completely dark, rural area, shoot using 20 or 30 second exposures at f/16.
4. Shooting rainbows
When shooting rainbows you want to make sure to maximize your depth of field while maintaining an f-stop range between f/8 to f/11. Using a polarising filter will also help bring out the rainbow in your photographs by enhancing the colours of the rainbow and the sky, but you have to be careful because the filter can also negate those reflections. Make sure to double check the photos that you are taking and rotate the filter accordingly. Rainbows also intensify over time so don’t be disheartened when you see a faint rainbow.
Taken by Marc Tavernier
5. Shooting in snow
Despite having to wear tons of layers in order to photograph snow, it’s still one of my favourite weather elements to shoot because the photos just have a clearer, sharper quality to them.
Snow is white and has a tendency to reflect light, and will trick your light meter to think that there is already enough life when there isn’t, so shooting in AUTO mode will usually result in underexposed photographs. Make sure to expose for the brightest spot of your composition to avoid the highlights from being overexposed. To help with finding the right exposure, make sure to include other elements in your photograph aside from snow, such as trees or people.
Also remember to adjust your white balance which is especially important since most of your photograph will have white in it! The Tungsten or Cloudy presets usually work best with snow.