I have photographed Fort Clinch on Amelia Island around a dozen times. I’m fascinated by the light and architecture—the many tunnels, windows, doorways, arched ceilings and worn, handmade bricks. I usually go with my tripod, camera and one or two zoom lenses on lightly overcast (preferred) or sunny days.
Earlier this week, I was on the island and it started raining. I ditched my plans, grabbed my camera and drove to the fort. No tripod, no zoom lenses, no filters. Just a 50mm lens and an umbrella. The rain tapered, but it was still wet, drizzly and moody.
Shooting in different weather wasn’t my only motive for returning. I wanted to try looking at the fort in new ways. Handholding allowed me to be more playful. The 50mm lens required me to zoom with my feet—physically moving closer to or farther away from my subject.
I noticed some things had changed at the fort. Furniture had been rearranged; some windows had been opened while others had been closed; the pantry was open in the kitchen; white barriers had been randomly placed along an exterior staircase (above); a different (interpretive) soldier was on duty.
When you find a subject or location you like to photograph, keep going back. See what has changed. Capture different moods by photographing in different seasons or light. Push yourself creatively by focusing on something different, using a different lens, or experimenting with a different technique each time you go. Be open to the serendipitous—the interaction of people or animals with a place or each other. One time think broad views; another time think intimate details. Look for opportunities to tell different stories about or reinterpret a place.
Is there somewhere close to your home or a place you travel to often that you could photograph regularly? Why not start building a portfolio of images about that place? If you do, I'd love to hear about your experience.
I like fog. I like fog a lot. It may even be my favorite weather for photography. There was a lot of fog on Great Cranberry Island, so I was a pretty happy camper. I was there for two weeks before I ever saw the view of Mount Desert Island and Cadillac Mountain. Mostly I had views of, well, fog. Sometimes, even when you love the weather, it's nice to have a change in conditions.
In landscape photography, we can’t control the weather or change the lighting conditions. We can research typical weather conditions for a place before we travel, but even weather forecasters struggle to predict what’s really going to happen. So we go prepared and work with what we have. We get up early for morning light, even if it turns out to be overcast. We head out to photograph at sunset, even if it turns to rain. After all, we never really know what we’re going to have until we get there. And in many places (such as the coast of Maine, I have discovered), the weather conditions can turn on a dime. Just when we least expect it, the clouds break and there is a rainbow. Or we have been shooting all day in bright sunshine and, yes, that wonderful fog begins to roll in.
In the end, we photograph the landscape under the conditions we are given. We work to master each type of light, learn to capture rain and fog in unique ways, and find other subjects to photograph when conditions are especially difficult. And if we keep going out—whether to the same places or new places—we do, eventually, get the light we are looking for. And when we do, it makes up for all those times we were out practicing and patiently waiting for a break in the weather.
We can’t control the weather or the path of the sun. So, as outdoor photographers, we have two basic choices: One, photograph only when the light and weather suit us. Or two, learn to shoot in just about any weather or light conditions.
I read something this week in which a photographer said he only goes out to shoot when the conditions are just right, and he was very particular about those conditions. I’ve been mulling over the plausibility of that option. Without a doubt, I am far more productive when the weather and light suits me. And it’s not just that the light is right for the photographs I like to create; it’s also that the weather suits my mood and I can more easily slip into a mental zone where I’m fully engaged and focused. My best shots in any year are usually clustered around a few shoots when all the right conditions came together and I was there to capture it. So would my time be better spent only shooting on such days, with the rest of my time devoted to studio work and business?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to plan our photographic assignments and outings, much less our lives, around the weather. We can watch the forecast and know when we might have these days, but not very far in advance. Sometimes, they sneak up on us when we’re already out and about. And just think of the opportunities and creative challenges we would miss if we limited ourselves to certain light and weather conditions.
I suppose I’m more of the mindset that we learn to be flexible and go with the flow. We learn what we can shoot in different types of light. We use the weather of the moment to help tell our story. In harsh light, we seek out pockets of shade or even light in which to shoot small subjects. We carry diffusers and bounce cards, or maybe even use fill flash, to alter the light. We screw on polarizing filters to knock out some of the glare and reflections, or stack neutral-density filters to reduce the light entering through the lens so that we can shoot at a slower shutter speed. On dark days, we go for moody images and shoot longer exposures.
Still, that photographer’s words haunt me. Perhaps it is because, too often, I allow those ideal weather days to slip by without shooting. I wasn’t watching the weather forecast and wasn’t prepared. I had made other plans—perhaps to shoot in the studio or handle business tasks and am too lazy to change my plans. Or the perfect mornings snuck up on me and I didn’t get up early enough. Maybe I should watch the forecasts more closely, keep my camera bag packed and ready to roll, and have a list of potential destinations in my car.
What about you? Do you shoot only when conditions are right? Or do you prefer to adapt to existing conditions? Are you able to pick up and go on a moment's notice or do you prefer having time to plan your shoots? Maybe all that matters is that you do what works for you, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
One of the differences between outdoor photography and studio photography is weather. Indoors, the photographer has control over the elements (although that doesn’t imply that establishing the right conditions or lighting is easy). Outdoors, the photographer doesn’t (and neither does that imply that it is difficult). It’s just a difference one must understand and, ultimately, embrace.
I’m on Amelia Island, making final preparations for an upcoming landscape photography workshop. Since arriving, I’ve experienced a 40-degree swing in temperatures during my shoots (from boots and a warm coat to sandals, shorts and a t-shirt). There have been bright, sunny days and a dark, overcast one; clear skies and cloudy skies; dense fog; a soaking rain; and gusts of wind so strong I thought they’d rip the door off my car. My favorite was the “silver day” with thin cloud cover that allowed a beautiful, soft light to shine through and cast only the faintest of shadows. I can shoot all day on a silver day.
I welcome changing light and weather conditions. They offer variety and interest, and keep me on my toes. Open scenes, oceans and architecture are great to photograph on sunny days. Gardens, woodlands and vegetation, in general, look their best on lightly overcast days or in soft, early morning light. I juggle my shooting schedule accordingly. Rain can prove interesting if I am prepared with cover for my camera. Fog is my favorite for capturing mood; there are never enough foggy days. When it is cold, I bundle up. When it is hot, I grumble, sweat, drink lots of water and look forward to a cold shower.
For me, heavy wind presents the greatest challenge. It helps to seek some kind of buffer, perhaps from a large tree or building; to keep a low profile and shoot low to the ground (I’ve even been known to lay on a tarp in the mud), where there is less to blow around; and to bump up the ISO and shutter speed on the camera. Sometimes, I take advantage of the movement and intentionally blur the image for a special effect. But achieving clarity, especially when any depth of field is desired, is a true challenge when my subject, camera and I are all moving. A tripod, even a weighted one, can only go so far.
Today (Wednesday, as I’m writing this) we had high seas and a small craft advisory. I was pounded by the wind; struggled to find any light beneath heavily overcast skies; and got drenched while chasing a storm cloud. I’ve always liked to think that I can come away from any shoot with “something.” Today it was scouting notes and a newsletter post. And I’m okay with that. Tomorrow is another day, another weather adventure.
It was late October in Maine: 38 degrees and raining. But this was a nature photography workshop and the instructor, Brenda Tharp, was determined that we were going to get in our shooting time. So instead of hanging out in the classroom or seeking out a cozy pub, we reluctantly donned our rain gear and followed her into the woods.
What we found there was a magical world of soft light, raindrops on mosses, richly saturated tree bark, and moisture that hung so heavily in the air you could barely see the path ahead. Although we were dripping wet and shivering, and our hands were so cold we could barely operate the camera controls, we all got our best shots of the week. I learned an important lesson that day, more than 15 years ago:
If you shoot when no one else does, you get images no one else gets.
Over the years, I have especially become a fan of dense, foggy weather. If I’m at home, I will walk out into our woods or take a quick drive to the lake. If I’m on Amelia Island, I head for the river, marsh or maritime forest. One of the things I love most about the Blue Ridge Mountains is the frequency of fog and low clouds. Sometimes it gets so thick that you have to turn around or wait it out; driving ahead isn't an option. And if I’m fortunate enough to be in Northern California when the coastal fog rolls in, I head for the hills, where I can sometimes get above it all. The mood created by fog is almost mystical. Both people and animals slow their pace, as if in another time or world. It is almost always very quiet—perhaps because most people stay indoors if they can. I find it incredibly peaceful.
What is your favorite weather—whether for photography or simply enjoying life? Do you have a special fog experience to share?
If you have ever tried photographing fog, you may have experienced seeing it with your eyes but not in your images. It plays tricks on the camera meter. To capture the fog in your images, you need to open up by ½ to 1 ½ stops, depending upon the density of the fog. Try bracketing your shots by ½-stop increments on the “+” side of the aperture scale.
Among the lessons I learned years ago during a workshop with photographer Brenda Tharp is that if you shoot when others don't, you get the shots that no one else does.
One day recently, while shooting in St. Louis on assignment, it was 5 degrees outside when I crawled out of bed and bundled up for a day of shooting. It was 13 degrees and windy when I actually took my first shot. it never climbed out of the 20s all day.
I wasn't shooting in color. My client needed black-and-white prints from a large-format camera. But I did toss a digital camera in the bag...just in case. This was one of the few times I pulled it out of the bag (choosing instead to use the camera on my iPhone when the urge to play struck). Maybe it's just that I'm from the South and don't see that much frozen ice, but the ice in this pond was a beautiful color. With the little piles of snow on top, I was reminded of clouds drifting in the sky.
This is one of those random, stand-alone shots that doesn't belong in a series or with the assignment, and often gets lost and forgotten along the way. So just for fun, I thought I'd share.
Stay warm, my friends!