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Nasty weather photography, Part 1 (03/19/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

If you want ideas for pictures to fill an empty space on a wall in your living room, office or den, consider taking photos during less than ideal weather conditions. We're not trying to get you to go out with your camera on a rainy or snowy day - not now anyway. These conditions can result in some great photos, but there are moderately poor kinds of weather that can produce some interesting and unusual results.

Photographically, there is no such thing as bad weather. Any climatic condition can provide great results, but also be aware that every kind of weather is inappropriate for some types of subject matter.

Technically not bad weather, but a bright, sunny, cloudless sky can be good for scenery shots. When there are no billowy clouds to add interest, tilt the camera down to emphasize the interplay of light and shadows in the scene. Show a small amount of sky to avoid the closed-in feeling. Including some sky will also increase depth perspective in pictures. Usually, sunlight ranging from a forty-five to a ninety degree angle works best. Frontlighting results in a flat, two-dimensional photo, and backlighting reduces detail in the scene.

Now here's the bad part about nice weather; it doesn't provide good lighting for outdoor pictures of people. It's contrasty, shadows are harsh, and if the subject is facing the sun, he or she will be forced to squint. The screwed-up face effect can be humorous, but it's not very flattering.

Hazy and light to moderate overcast skies provide excellent lighting for people shots, and shots of any nearby subjects when detail is wanted. Shadows are soft and contrast is reduced, but there is still enough contrast to provide nice modeling for depth perspective.

On the other hand (wouldn't you know), hazy and overcast skies are less appropriate for distant scenery shots. Depth perspective is decreased, and the sky has no character at all. Adding to the dismalness is the fact that this type of lighting is fairly high in cool-blue wavelengths. The scenery will be more interesting, though, if you can include something bright or colorful, such as a white fence or a red barn. Yellow or orange objects will also brighten up the scene.

A heavy overcast sky fills in shadows to an even greater extent. Avoid shooting scenery shots under this condition, unless absolutely necessary. Informal people pictures can work out well in this kind of lighting if you use fill-flash.

If some morning you awaken early, look out the window and see nothing but fog, grab your camera and head for the countryside because you're in for a photographic treat. Fog combined with overcast skies can provide you with some great shots, but stay around until the sun begins to burn off the fog. Shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds can produce a dramatic contrast with the fog. This effect will also increase depth perspective in the pictures.

As the sun burns the fog away, the combination of fog and sunlight can provide dramatic effects in lowland and forest areas. But the results are especially striking on bodies of water such as along streams, swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes and rivers.

In all of the above weather conditions, most cameras have difficulty determining the optimum exposure. For best results, shoot at the setting determined by the camera, then take some shots using the backlight button, or, if your camera has the function, use the +1 or +2 setting on the exposure compensation dial. With adjustable cameras, you would also have the choice of increasing exposure a stop or two.

For best results in bad (bad?) weather, use a slower film such as ISO 100 or 200, or, on a digital camera, ISO 50, if your camera has it, or 100. And, of course, use a tripod, or one of the other methods for getting maximum camera steadiness.

More next time. 


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