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Nasty weather photography, Part 2 (03/22/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

For strikingly dramatic shots, there's nothing like a nice, gentle spring shower, or even a mist or light drizzle, to give the world a fresh appearance. Moist flowers and foliage glisten, and wet sidewalks and pavement produce dazzling reflections of people, cars, buildings and trees.

There is also nothing like a wet camera when the electronic gadgetry goes on the fritz. With most cameras, if the electronic components get wet, the camera will stop functioning altogether. You might be lucky enough that everything will work properly when the camera dries out, but don't count on it. In many cases, the camera will shut down permanently, or until the owner pays the exorbitant cost of repair. Rain or drizzle falling on the camera will cause the most damage, but even fog or high humidity might result in the camera malfunctioning, at least temporarily.

If you plan on getting into weather photography big time, there are several relatively inexpensive compact 35mm and digital cameras on the market that are water-resistant. Many of these cameras are not waterproof so they can't be dunked, but they do very nicely in a rainstorm.

If you want a camera that you can use in rainy weather and also take snorkeling, consider getting a waterproof or water-resistant camera. There are several compact 35mm cameras and at least one digital model on the market, as well as a few SLRs. These cameras are a little more costly, but they also have excellent lenses and are very versatile. Some camera manufacturers provide waterproof or water-resistant housings for their cameras.

There are also several single-use cameras on the market that are water-resistant or waterproof. Although the quality of the lenses on these cameras is quite good, picture quality will probably drop off with enlargements greater than 5x7.

When shooting in wet weather, it's important to keep the lens dry. The best way of doing this is to shoot from an open doorway, under a covering such as a store awning or canopy, through the open window of a building or car, or from any other protective enclosure. If you insist on being out in the elements, have a large supply of lens tissue on hand. Keep checking the camera lens for moisture, and use the tissue when necessary. After using a tissue once, throw it away. Don't reuse wet lens tissue.

If you're fortunate enough to be in an open area with your camera when rolling, dark thunderheads are approaching, you'll have a chance to record one of the most dynamic and photographically dramatic effects of nature. That is, unless it's an electrical storm, in which case you should head for the shelter of a car or building immediately. Hopefully, you'll still be able to shoot from an open window or doorway. If you are able to capture this phenomenon on film, tilt the camera up in order to emphasize the cloud formations.

As with overcast skies and foggy weather, all of the above lighting conditions could cause underexposure. To compensate, 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.

Using one of these exposure-increasing techniques is especially important when photographing a rainbow. This will provide the intense colors you want to capture in a picture. As an added bonus, other colors in the scene will also be quite rich.

Pictures on your walls don't all have to be pretty. Bad weather isn't pretty, but it does have a beauty all its own. When done well, bad-weather photos can make the viewer feel the dampness, and imagine the cold that the photographer experienced firsthand. 


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