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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Beauty & Challenge Of Winter Storms

Difficult weather produces uniquely compelling conditions for photography, as well as dangers that need to be observed

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A winter sunrise and the resulting snowbow captured from Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Check your exposure histogram when photographing these elements as your camera meter underexposes these scenes, creating dull, muddy images. Add exposure compensation to auto exposure or overexpose by about one stop nominal on manual to correct this. Slower shutter speeds often create soft, dreamlike images in foggy conditions. Snow and rain soften distant features in a storm and create a three-dimensional effect of elements fading in the distance. Try a slower shutter speed, depending on conditions, to create a slight blur in the drops to add dynamic motion to the image.

Clouds are often the most dramatic elements of a stormy winter scene. When magnificent, dark and foreboding cloud-filled skies dominate a stormy landscape, anchor your image with elements like hills or trees along the bottom third or less of your image to give it structure, but not overwhelm the clouds.

You may not realize it, but you can get a rainbow, called a "snowbow," during a clearing snowstorm. I photographed one of these rare events on a very cold sunrise morning at Bryce. Rainbows are truly beautiful and often stand out against those dark, violent storm skies. They add spectacular elements to an image. Because rainbows occur at a 90º angle to the sun, be careful using a polarizer to photograph them. It's easy to make a rainbow disappear when using a polarizer to darken the sky. Watch the effect through your eyepiece and adjust accordingly. Capturing lightning is challenging, especially when the strikes are prominent, but far apart, time-wise.

General Information
North American Nature Photography Association
The Weather Channel
Weather Underground
Lightning Trigger (Stepping Stone Products, LLC)
Nik Software
Photomatix (HDRsoft)
It's hard to keep the shutter open for long periods and not overexpose the image. Variable neutral-density filters from Singh-Ray and other companies can solve this problem. Another solution I use is the Lightning Trigger from Stepping Stone Products, LLC. Attached to your camera's cable release port, with your exposure settings on manual, it has an amazing ability to capture lightning strikes even from great distances. All my lightning images were made with this device.

Storm light can be soft and diffuse or harsh and high contrast with several stops of tonal range between shadows and highlights. Be prepared for either condition. Diffuse light can often be shot straight on with little compensation.

Harsh light requires additional effort. You can use a split neutral-density filter to even out tonal range. Or, shoot multiple images of the same composition at different ƒ-stops with your camera locked down on a tripod. Combine these images using an HDR software program like Nik Software HDR Efex Pro 2 or Photomatix Pro from HDRsoft to narrow the contrast range and bring out the best elements of your image.


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