Landscape Photography - When weather goes bad!

04th April 2018
The Easter bank holiday saw a loosely 'planned' trip down the East coast, from Dunbar in Scotland to Bamburgh in Northumberland. I'd set off with an idea of what I'd like to photograph but, like on many occasions, this goes out the window when confronted with weather reality.

I'm not a subscriber to the maxim that "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing". There's truth in this to a point, but particular activities become difficult or impossible when the weather becomes extreme, regardless of what you're wearing.

The weather wasn't extreme this holiday (cold, with persistent rain and gusty wind) but it wasn't particularly attractive for the type of photography I like to undertake and would test the patience of most photographers. Truth be told, if I'd been at home, I'd have drank lots of tea and read or watched telly instead!

But when you're away on a trip, what do I do? I could just give up (which I've often done!) or I can adapt my expectations and be flexible around the types of images that can be created. Having sat in the campervan for many hours watching the rain, I decided the latter option would be the way forward.

I generally shoot with prime lenses and am much less inclined to swap these around when it's wet. That means most of the shots I took on this trip were with my trusty old 50mm lens which is fine as I'm very taken shooting with it these days.

In bad weather, I use my tripod less frequently, especially in very windy conditions where camera shake can creep in even when mounted on the tripod. Instead, I switch to handheld, bumping up the ISO to access faster shutter speeds and I work more quickly, dashing in and out of shelter between grab shots.

So, weather impacts on the camera settings I use and the kit I deploy. But the most significant change is my approach to landscape subjects. One thing I encourage clients to do on workshops is analyse the scene in front of them, breaking down photographic opportunities into three categories.

1) The Big Picture - The sweeping vista set out before you and captured with a wide angle lens, ideally with some epic lighting.

2) The Vignette - how I describe taking a small distant aspect or element from the overall scene and isolating it , often through use of a longer focal length.

3) The Near World- getting physically close to nearby subjects and isolating them from the greater landscape scene.

Bad weather generally sees me focusing on the last category as it's less impacted by poor lighting and shot set up is usually simpler. This was the approach I adopted on this photography trip - focusing mainly on detail, getting in really close to tightly frame those smaller landscapes. When there was a break in the weather, categories one and two were back, albeit briefly on the menu of photographic possibilities.

I often find being 'forced' to consider subjects I'd normally overlook as a good exercise for the photography brain as well as throwing up unusual and interesting results. In this case, the sad demise of a small bird with it's final resting place on the high tide line, and the strange case of fish heads leaving me wondering how they ended up there?

So, if there's a point to this little ramble, it's that I try not to give up when the weather goes to pot. I might not get what I want (what I really, really want) but if I've driven hours to get somewhere then I know there's usually something I can come away with. If the weather is REALLY extreme, then hand on heart, yep, I give up and go and drink tea or have a dram!

Happy Shooting, Rod

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