The weather gets a lot of bad press, especially here in the UK, where our favourite pastime is complaining about whatever is happening in the sky at the current moment. It doesn't have to be that way though, and there are plenty of reasons for you to don your waterproofs and head out with the camera even when conditions don't necessarily look favourable.
In fact, as a landscape photographer stormy weather has become one of my favourite conditions to shoot in. Sure, it's not the most comfortable weather to be out photographing in, but the magic is that you never know what you're going to witness!
Further Reading: 8 Quick Tips to Transform your Landscape Photography
Photography Conditions Will Never Be 'Perfect'
I fell into this trap early on in my photography career, and it's one I'm very glad to be over. If you're waiting for the 'perfect' conditions for nature photography you'll be waiting a very long time!
I would check all the weather forecasts: cloud cover, wind speed, cloud height - The full works. If it wasn't looking extremely promising I wouldn't bother setting the alarm, but in doing so I missed out on tonnes of potential photographic gold. Conditions will never be perfect, but things in life rarely are perfect.
This mistake on my part led to me not getting out into nature anywhere near enough. Now I only check the weather forecast to determine where is best to go and shoot. If it's raining I put on waterproofs, if it's windy I add an extra layer, and in doing so I've experienced and seen some magical moments.
This doesn't just apply to landscape and nature photography. Street photography can be phenomenal in rainy conditions for example.
Stormy Weather Forces You to Think
When we're stuck in the trap of pastel sunrises and gorgeously soft mist lying across a glass-like lake we don't tend to venture very far from the norm of photography. Our compositions become rather sterile and overall our photography just becomes predictable. Stormy weather forces you out of your comfort zone.
Maybe it's too windy for using a tripod, or perhaps the rain keeps covering your filters in droplets. A pea soup-esque fog could be hanging over the scene or the clouds may have completely obscured any hint of a sunrise or sunset. Don't head back to the car though - Experiment without a tripod and filters, try some compositions that complement that fog, and use that choppy water as a compositional aide.
It's simple - We never grow as photographers unless we are pushed out of our comfort zone, and there's nothing further out of your comfort zone than being enveloped in a thick fog on a rain battered mountainside. Just remember to always stay safe and don't take any stupid risks!
Shooting in 'Bad' Weather Sets You Apart
Sunset photographers are a dime a dozen these days, and sunrise photographers are only slighly rarer creatures. This is by no means a bad thing, but it does mean that the competition to get noticed (if that is your aim) is harder than ever, and the quest for originality is tougher every day.
If I head out to shoot a sunrise in Autumn I almost always come across another landscape photographer. It's nice being able to talk photography with them, but if we're striving for originality (which we all should be) then this is rarely the way to get it.
Do you know how often I see other photographers out in the rain and the wind? I can tell you it's not many. In fact, there are about four photographers I know in my locale that like photographing in bad weather, and they are four of the best photographers I know.
Photographing in bad weather sets you apart from the masses, and that in turn gives you an easier road to originality than those who obsess over sunset colours.
The most memorable photographs I see are the ones with a sense of drama to them, and nothing is more dramatic than a storm. The extra dimensions that those brooding clouds and squalls of rain add help to convey the scene to the viewer, and to be honest they're a lot more relatable to the average viewer than a saturated sunrise.
Obviously these conditions present challenges to us, but that's all part of the experience! Just make sure to clean your lens from water droplets often, try to keep the camera as dry as possible, and weigh your tripod down to stop it blowing over (yes, that's happened to me.)
Everybody Likes a Rainbow
You can't get a rainbow without some rain, and everybody loves a rainbow! Honestly, I can't think of many compositions that wouldn't be improved by the presence of a rainbow.
Implementing a rainbow into your composition can be quite challenging though. The urge to include all of the rainbow is often overwhelming, but sometimes that's not the best option. My one tip would be to use the rainbow to complement an already pleasing composition, rather than trying to improve a poor shot with it.
Magic Happens When the Light Breaks Through
All of the previous points are very good reasons to grab the camera and head out of the door even when the weather looks unfavourable. However, they all pale in comparison to this final point. This is the real reason you should head out.
The light is never better than when a storm has just passed through, and when those first rays of light finally breach the thick clouds it can transform a scene from impressive to awe-inspiring. If you want to capture the mythical spotlighting I talked about in this article, you need to be making the most of the 'bad' weather. Yes, you will need to be lucky to capture this, but I've found that the more I shoot the luckier I get!
I can't stress enough just how magical this is. When you've been standing for an hour in the rain with a composition framed and that image-making light breaks it gives a rush unlike any other in landscape photography.
I recently did a review of my favourite images of the year and guess what. All but one of them were shot in weather that most landscape photographers would stay in bed for. I may have arrived home soaking wet and wind burned, but that's a small price to pay for the elation that moment of capture gives you!
Have you tried shooting in poor weather? If so we'd love to see the results in the comments!