Accompany me on a photographic sojourn into the land of inclement weather. It’s a glorious destination shrouded in cold and mist. A land whose frigid hands welcome you as they derive their power by sucking the juice from your camera’s battery. It’s a land surrounded by an ominous and mysterious fog that enshrouds all. Grab your umbrella, galoshes and gloves to ford your way through the cold and snow to make some wonderful images.
Five a.m. wake-up calls can be quite disconcerting, especially when setting your eyes upon the eastern horizon and witness a bank of gray accompanied by the pitter-patter of raindrops. Don’t despair—when nature deals a bum hand to your photographic day, good images can still be made. Be prepared, dress appropriately and show some common sense when it’s necessary to deal with poor weather conditions. If you’re not comfortable when out in the field, your photos will depict this. Being cold and wet prevents you from finding the perfect angle or taking that necessary extra step to create the perfect composition.
Leaving the comfort of your home or car and braving the elements is the first hurdle to overcome when photographing in inclement weather. For me, the easiest type of poor weather in which to shoot is fog. Foggy conditions elicit moody and ethereal feelings. The light is diffused and even but often flat. Take advantage of this to make a successful image.
The elements that comprise the composition recede, as does the intensity of their shape, color and contrast. Place a dominant subject in the foreground so it becomes the primary element. All other parts become secondary as they melt into the background in a wash of mist. This evokes a solemn and peaceful mood. When created properly, photographs made in the fog tend to be very soothing.
Shooting in the fog requires precautions to protect your camera from the surrounding mist. Fog does appear in differentiating densities. Therefore, its encountered density dictates what’s necessary to keep the camera safe. Along the coastal areas, fog can be so thick it feels like a misty drizzle. At other times, it can be a soft layer of moisture that thinly obscures the sun.
The biggest danger of fog to a camera is moisture. Modern camera bodies have intricate and delicate electronics, but most are manufactured with water sealing protection. I prefer to err on the side of caution, so I make sure no water creates a malfunction. In a thin fog, I periodically wipe the camera with a washcloth that lives in my camera bag. I also make sure I wipe the eyepiece, the filter that protects the front element of my lens, in addition to the lens barrel to prevent moisture from entering internal components.
Fog, especially when near larger bodies of water, harbors or coastal environments can be so thick it’s called pea soup. I’ve experienced this along the Oregon coast and the fishing ports of New England. In situations like this, I protect my equipment the same as if shooting in the rain due to the rapid buildup of water on my equipment.
Fog can easily trick a camera’s meter. Straight metering of fog creates an underexposed image due to its high reflectivity. My standard compensation is +1 f-stop. Depending upon its thickness, I’ve dialed in as much as +2 stops.
The weather channel shows a cloudless full moon across the screen. “Bummer,” I say to myself. No shots of city lights reflected off rain-soaked streets or streaks of car lights that reflect the mirrored surface from an overlook of Interstate 25. “Bummer,” I say to myself. No shots of saturated autumn-colored leaves in a deciduous forest of maples, oaks and birches that carpet the forest floor with a polyurethaned look of a fall shower upon them. “Bummer,” I say to myself as I gaze upon a sunlit cobblestone street below. Imagine what a great shot it would be if rain was falling and a lone figure with a red umbrella walked beneath me. Don’t get me wrong. I love the sun when it comes to photography. But when it’s obstinate and I’m dealt a wet weather hand, I still head out into the field. What does change is threefold: what I wear, what I bring and what I photograph.
First and foremost, I keep myself and my gear protected. If I’m wet and miserable, my creativity suffers. Commensurate with how I feel, the quality of my images reflects this. Waterproof shoes and outer gear are a must. For my cameras, I have “raincoats” made by OpTech. They are called Rainsleeves and work well to protect my camera and lens from the elements. Made of clear flexible polyurethane, they allow me to make any and all adjustments to my settings. They even make a model that accommodates the use of a flash. For light rain and mist, I periodically towel dry my gear and forego the Rainsleeve. I also keep the camera and lens inside my waterproof jacket when not in use.
If you become addicted to inclement weather shooting or your subject matter dictates you have no choice, OpTech makes vinyl rain sleeves. You’ve probably seen them used by sports photographers along the sidelines of football games during nasty weather. They’re reserved for the “inclement weather-aholic.” Needless to say, if the rain is associated with lightning, common-sense safety precautions should be taken. Choose a safe vantage point, try to shoot from inside a car or building and don’t carry your tripod like a lightning rod.
Next week, I’ll share more bad weather photography tips in part 2.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.