Weather photography is a lot of fun, and even more rewarding when you’re a meteorologist. Use your knowledge and passion to your advantage, and take some great photos of the weather. Here are some tips to get you started…
The best camera…
… is the one you have with you. Of course, there are advantages to having a good quality camera, or more importantly, a good quality lens. But not everyone owns one, and anyway, even as a meteorologist you might be surprised by a weather phenomenon appearing without warning, and you don’t always have your heavy SLR camera with you. When you suddenly notice some really impressive clouds or a beautiful rainbow for example: don’t hesitate to use your mobile phone. Mobile phone cameras are getting better and better, and in these situations coming home with a cool photo on your phone is so much better than coming home with no photo at all!
To get good photos of the weather, it helps to be outside a LOT. That way, you’ll be out when something interesting happens and you can get a better foreground than your messy backyard, or whatever view you have from your office window. Having a pretty foreground can make a huge difference, even when you “just” want a photo of a weather phenomenon. It helps if you have some favourite places close to home that you can reach easily such as a nice view over a lake or river, a viewpoint from a hill or perhaps a beach. If you’ve visited a place often, you’ll get to know it in all seasons and you’ll learn how to take better photos of it.
Get out, even when the weather is bad
Or rather: ESPECIALLY when the weather is bad. Bad weather can be very photogenic. Try going to the beach in a storm for example – you’ll see impressive waves, maybe even crashing around a lighthouse. Or you can take photos of other people walking on the beach, struggling against the wind and the blowing sand. Another advantage is that you’ll likely be one of the only ones out with a camera in bad weather, and that results in unique images. Of course, do think about your safety and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Use your knowledge
As a meteorologist, you have a clear advantage: you know more about the weather than anyone else. You probably know that when a front moves in with a veil of high cirrus, you could expect a halo around the sun. You know when the conditions are right for early morning fog, you know when to expect a rainbow. You know how to read radar and satellite images, now use this knowledge to your advantage! Even if you don’t work as a weather forecaster, you can interpret the weather forecast and the different data sources, and make them work for you. If you know that fog is predicted in the morning, why not bring your camera on your commute to work?
The golden and the blue hour
The quality of the light can be an important factor in a photo. Photographers often talk about the golden or the blue hour, or sometimes the magic hour. This all sounds rather mysterious, but basically it means that the best light for photography is around sunrise and sunset, when the light is softest and warmest. The golden hour is roughly an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, when the low angle of the sun makes for beautiful light. The blue hour is the time during twilight where the sky has color (usually a deep blue, but there can be hints of red and pink) even though the sun is below the horizon. There are plenty of apps available that will help you determine the timing of the golden and blue hours for your location.
If you are serious about weather photography, there are a few items that are worth having. First of all, a tripod. This allows you to take photos when it’s too dark to get sharp handheld photos, and it’s also great for long exposures during thunderstorms (to catch the lightning).
Second, a polarizing filter. In the right conditions, a polarizing filter enhances the contrast between blue sky and white clouds in a spectacular way – it’s the easiest way to get that “postcard” effect! Polarizing filters can also do magic on rainbows, as it can make them much clearer and stronger.
Beware though, if you rotate the filter the “wrong” way, you can make the rainbow disappear too. Finally, a wide-angle lens is really nice for capturing large parts of the sky, making the rainbow “fit” in your frame, and still include a nice foreground.
By Hanneke Luijting, EMS Liaison Committee
(all photos on this page by Hanneke Luijting also)