Welcome once again to my blog. I hope that you are all well.
We are now in the middle of storm season, February, 2020 and many people tend to put away their cameras and wait for the good weather to return. However, the bad weather presents as many opportunities for beautiful images as the good weather.
The image above was shot in Doolin, Co. Clare, as a storm arrived. The wave looks spectacular and the people in the image gives us a sense of the size of it. An image of this kind could never be taken during good weather.
However, the image also brings to mind a very important point about photographing bad weather, being safe. Because of the work that I used to do, I was often out at the peak of a storm but I would never venture out with my camera at that point otherwise. With winds gusting at up to 130 kph, falling trees and flying debris are obvious dangers. If you are standing out in it there is also the possibility that you will be knocked over and fall down a cliff, into a river or get badly injured in some other way or worse still, get killed.
At all times, you should exercise caution. Plan your trip, let people know where you are going and when to expect you back. If you are delayed, phone home. Develop a habit of keeping in contact with someone, your spouse, adult child, close friend, etc.
Never take risks. Stand well back from steep edges, river banks, out from under trees or walls (unless you can be sure of them surviving the wind), brace yourself against the wind and keep looking about you, as circumstances change quickly. Avoid the peak of the storm, unless you know somewhere that you will be very safe. When the storm is building or dying you can get spectacular photos without too great a risk.
Most modern cameras are weather resistant but it is worth investing in a cover. There is a range of covers available for very reasonable prices. There is a limit to the amount of rain that your camera and lens can keep out, don't test it.
Don't forget to keep yourself well protected from the rain also. Wear warm, water proof clothing, strong boots and heavy socks. Bring a flask of coffee or tea and something to eat. Prepare for being stuck out there for a few hours and have enough to keep you going.
Fenit lighthouse, Co. Kerry, just before the arrival of heavy rains, ahead of a storm.
If you are using a tripod for your photography it should be weighed down. Modern tripods have a hook or some other system for attaching bags to help steady it in high winds. I also use a wrist strap for my camera and keep it on, so that if the tripod is blown over, I can grab my camera and prevent it hitting the ground.
If you are not using a tripod it will be very difficult to hold the camera steady while standing. I usually squat or go down on one knee to get a shot. Sometimes I use a wall or other solid structure either to brace myself against or to shelter me from the wind. For the top photo I was behind a metre thick poured concrete wall. The wind was only hitting my head. For other photos on the day I used boulders and the van that I was driving for shelter from the wind, while I photographed.
The golden rule is keep yourself safe and keep yourself steady.
This shot was taken in Kilkee during a storm. I used my van to shelter me from the wind and was parked over 30 meters from the edge.
When shooting don't forget that it's vital to avoid camera shake. The tips above about bracing yourself and steadying your tripod will help but you should also consider increasing your ISO rating, especially if shooting hand held.
A good guide to use is that your shutter speed should be at least the inverse of your lens or faster. That is to say that if you are shooting with a 100 mm lens, your shutter speed should be at a minimum 1/100 sec. You may be able to achieve this speed with a low ISO but storms often tend to be deceptively dark and higher ratings are needed.
The shots above were shot at ISO 200, 1000 and 100 respectively. The middle shot may look like it needed the lowest ISO but I was shooting with a long lens and the wind was blowing directly at me, making it difficult to avoid the camera pushing up and back. I decided to work on the safe side and not risk loosing the image to camera shake.
For this shot in the Gap of Dunloe, Killarney, Co. Kerry, wind was not a major factor but low light levels were.
During storms or in bad weather generally, low light is a problem. So, to know when to push up your ISO to avoid camera shake and dark images, it is best to use your histogram. The image you see on your LCD is not a good indicator of the final product.
When you view an image on your camera it is also possible to view the histogram. You may need to check your manual for this. In Nikon cameras when an image is displayed you simply either press the scroll button up or down and the histogram will display.
This is a representation of the distribution of pixels at the different levels of brightness. So, if you have a very bright image the pixels are concentrated on the right and for a dark image the are concentrated on the left. For a well exposed image their are towards the centre.
This is the histogram for the image above, as you see it, taken from Photoshop, not the camera. The bottom right corner represents pure white and the bottom left represents pure black. Points in between represent different degrees of brightness. Most of the pixels are to the right, with some on the left, representing the dark sky and mountains in the background. This is a correctly exposed image.
This next histogram is of the same image but darkened in Photoshop, to show how an under exposed image would look. Now there are very little pixels on the right of the histogram and they are concentrated on the left, pushed against the edge. The peak going through the top indicates that there are points where information is lost and can only be represented by pure black, even though there is no pure black in the scene.
This final histogram shows an over exposed version of the same image. Now the pixels are concentrated on the right and the peak has gone through the top, indicating that some pixels will be represented by pure white, even though there is no pure white in the scene.
Where the peak breaks through the top it is not possible to recover information. These points will be represented by pure black or white and not the real colours in the scene.
Adjusting your ISO rating can help solve this problem. Reduce it for over exposed images and increase it for under exposed ones. This assumes that you want to keep your F number constant. Another way is to use your +/- button and tell the camera to either under or over expose the image, as necessary. As we're dealing with landscapes here, I recommend using Aperture Priority and letting the camera adjust the shutter speed.
If you don't know much about using the three settings that control your exposure refer to my blogs on the subject;
Don't be afraid to experiment with your settings and if you're not sure, bracket. That is where you take several shots of the same scene at different settings and then either use the best of blend two or more to get a better representation of the scene. You will be able to set your camera to automatically bracket for you, using three to seven shots, depending on the camera. This setting is available in your menu and as each camera is different, you'll have to check your instruction book.
As the light changes very quickly in bad weather, trying to bracket manually will give you very different images and you could miss that shot you wanted.
This shot was taken on Banna Beach, Co. Kerry, in November, as yet another period of heavy rain arrived on the west coast.
I use spot or centre weighed metering for most of my bad weather images. The reason for this is that light levels vary so much through out a scene and I want to be sure that what I've picked as the focal point is correctly exposed. I'm prepared to loose unimportant detail, if necessary. This, combined with the use of the +/- button gives me the results that I want.
Finally, I shoot in RAW. If your camera can shoot in RAW I recommend that you do for your bad weather shots, indeed, most shots. This gives you great latitude in correcting exposure problems, among other things, that wouldn't be available if you shot in JPEG. The files are much bigger, often ten or more times larger, so you will need plenty of storage but it's worth it in the long run. In the image above, for example, I would have lost most of the detail in the clouds had I shot in JPEG.
I hope that this helps with your bad weather photography and that if you do some, that you do it safely and enjoy it.
Until next time, take care of yourself and those that you love. Keep shooting.