Why Landscape Photographers Love Bad Weather

In Tips by Matt K15 Comments

It’s funny how things change. I remember back when I first started in photography and I’d travel some place to shoot. I’d look at the weather forecast and hope for blue skies. Today, it’s the opposite. Now when I look at forecasts I hope for some cloudy, and even stormy, weather. I tend to think that, when it comes to landscape photography, good weather can be, well… good for photos. But dramatic weather helps make dramatic photos. To me, dramatic weather can bring along dramatic conditions, light, and clouds. And when I look at what landscape photos really stand out to me these days (and their popularity to others), those are the kinds of photos that catch my eye.

Here’s a great example. I saw this photo from Sean Bagshaw on 500px.com the other day.

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Sean’s a great photographer and I’ve always liked following his work (click here to see more of it). Well, after I saw the photo, it immediately looked familiar since I’ve photographed from nearly the same exact spot a year ago. Here’s my version from last year.

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Now, it’s not horrible and I’m happy enough with it. It certainly won’t win any awards, but in the context of a photo book I put together from the trip, it works. But to me, it’s definitely not the photo that Sean had above. It doesn’t have the dramatic light hitting the trees and mountain that only the sun streaking through clouds can bring. I’m a sucker for light beams, clouds and atmosphere. I love it when light is only hitting part of a photo and this photo has it.

So What’s the Difference?
The difference between the two is one simple thing: the weather. And it’s the one thing that we (sometimes) have no control over. I say “sometimes” because we may be able to control what day we go out shooting, but that’s about it. I’ve said it before, but the weather is the secret key to a great landscape photo and, like it or not, you either have it or you don’t. All we can do is hope that our trip/shooting plans happen to coincide with it. I don’t know about you, but my travel plans usually pin me down to being in a location on a very certain day, and I usually don’t have much room to spare to try to go back to reshoot if I’m not happy with what I got.

The Takeaway From All This
But the takeaway from all this (I hope at least), is to look at some of those bad weather conditions as opportunities. Don’t just stay home if the weather looks bad. If you look at the weather forecast and it looks like clouds and rain, maybe consider going out anyway. You never know what you’ll get.

Every Once in a While You Get Lucky
All that said, I’ll finish on a high note in that every once in a while you do get lucky. It’s a lot like golf right? Most of us never make that amazing shot that we hope for. But man… when we do, it’s those shots that keep us coming back for more.

These photos were taken on a trip last year where the weather was looking horrible (and not a good horrible). And then, all of the sudden, on three separate occasions, the sun poked through the clouds to make some really nice (and much more interesting) photos then they would have been under perfect blue skies.

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Here’s to some crappy (but not really crappy) days of shooting landscapes 🙂 Have a good one!

Comments

  1. Dennis Zito

    Boy, Matt, you hit the nail on the head! Like you I use to hope for sunny days for photos. Then we went to NE to capture the fall colors. It was cloudy and raining most of the time, but then the sun would peek through and Bam … a awesome site would appear. Now, I’m hoping for not so bad weather too! Your photos are always an inspiration to me! Hey, if things go well for moving into our new home here in San Antonio, I hope to make it to your LR class!

    Dennis

  2. Ernie Decker

    I understand what you’re saying and I agree. However, since photography is so subjective anyway, I prefer your shot of the mountain with more snow on it. In your photo it’s clear the snow covered mountain is the subject. In his there are too many trees and the mountain is too small in the pic. Anyway, my 2 cents.

  3. Willie Zayas

    Hi Matt! great article as usual. I had planned a trip to Spain’s North East this weekend which is a very popular destination for photographers to capture the colors of the fall. The problem is the weather, we’re supposed to have rain on that area at least two of the three days I’m planning to go. I’m still not decided on going forward with the plan or cancel it. I know rain and fog could be great ingredients for fall pictures of the forest but it may also be a bit uncomfortable to take pictures in those conditions. Now that I’ve read your post I will give it a second thought…

    Thanks Matt and keep up the good work!

  4. John Skinner

    Had no other place to post this… there is no direct contact except with a tweet. And I wanted this to be part of the collective as it were anyway.

    I would like to open your eyes and maybe speak for some people that would like to say something, but don’t know what to say.

    Although I’ve known for a few days, your now announced move to OnOne.. It wasn’t until yesterday’s GRID it really hit home and I realized what a huge difference this is going to make, and looking back, would have made in just one person’s life/workflow/enjoyment of a craft, namely… me. If the stars had not aligned… and Kelby wouldn’t have taken you on. (No offense inferred to Dave C. — I’m Canadian too)

    I’ve followed your work, blogs, tutorials, seminars and DVD’s, for years now. Some I use as reference almost daily, such as the compositing book. And to think all this stops now, and you’ll be ‘a one product pony’. Anyway, not to get off on that road.

    You’ve really been a huge driving force behind a lot of people Matt. Your weekly interactions with all of us have been (not using the term lightly) life changing… They’ve really have made a difference in many many lives. Not a lot of people get a chance to truly say that, and, really have rubber on the road to be ABLE to say it honestly. But you can.

    So it’s with so many mixed emotions and feelings I say ‘best wishes’ to you.

    I wish you and your family good health and happiness for the future. And OnOne is a very fortunate group of people having talked you on board.

    This may have been a tad convoluted in it’s form of message. I hope I was able to express to you the gratitude and emotion behind the words said.

    I guess we’ll see you here, and wherever your compass takes you.

    Cheers mate, – John Skinner

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey John. Thanks so much for the kind words. Seriously, you made my day.
      I’m going to do a formal post next week but I’m really not going very far. You may not see me on the Grid (heck, I travel a lot so I was barely on anyway). If anything, this opportunity gives me more time at home and more time to make content and training and also help make some great software for people to use as well.
      I’ll be here on the blog and will keep you posted as to what’s to come 🙂
      Thanks again. That really meant a lot to me.

  5. Peter Nord

    Wishing you well. Now that you are wishing for cloudy, rainy, I think you’ve found the right place. Just think now you’ll be closer to the north-west for Canada and Alaska shots. Good luck. Rest assured a lot of us will be watching to see how it turns out.

  6. Steve L

    Finally! Someone (you!) state the obvious “problem” that many of us have when trying to take landscapes while we are traveling : “I don’t know about you, but my travel plans usually pin me down to being in a location on a very certain day, and I usually don’t have much room to spare to try to go back to reshoot if I’m not happy with what I got. ”
    Yep….for sure!
    But I do try to keep a written list of local places to head to when the weather looks like it’s gonna be “interesting.”

  7. jOHNNY

    Matt,

    Thanks for bringing back memories of Fall gone past. In all my years of going to Ridgway I have never considered shooting Courthouse at sunset due to, I guess so many other opportunities for that WOW shot and composition that screams, yep you should have been here yesterday.

    But next year, if the weather is right I will have to give it a shot. I did have one day this year that was very similar to what we experienced last year. Two years in a row with fresh snow on golden leaves is a first for me up there.

    I ran across Bill Fortney in the Smokies a week ago and got to experience fresh snow on fall colors in the park and surrounding area. I have been very lucky this year being able to experience and shoot fresh snow laden fall colors in two very special places.

    So yep, weather matters…..misty rain and heavy clouds and I am in photo heaven all day. Five months and counting until the Texas Wildflower season erupts and if the rains keep happening it will be a spring eruption for sure.

    Good luck with the OnOne bunch…..

  8. Rich Olson

    Matt,

    Great article!

    I too watch the weather forecasts and in many cases, head out into some nasty weather. You never know what the lighting may present until you arrive, but if you don’t go you may miss out on a spectacular scene.

    I recently went to Portland Head Light before dawn. The weather forecasts said partly cloudy skies, but instead I saw clear skies. I live in Mass so I can drive up at different times.

    I walked around in the darkness watching the sky and saw a few wisps of clouds moving through the sky, I kept hoping the clouds may pass over the lighthouse at dawn’s early light. About 5:30 AM just at dawn’s early light I saw a bit of color reflect off the clouds. My reward for the night time drive. If I stay home in bed I’d missed the photos. Now I need to improve my processing skills.

    You want dramatic photos? Buy the clothes to keep you dry and warm in the bad weather. Go take some photos!

  9. Steve Miller

    Great post Matt. Quite often the advice for landscape photographers is to take photo at sunset or sunrise. While good the best time by far is taking photos during bad weather. The worse the weather the better the photo might be as a result.

  10. Dave Bennett

    A very interesting article.
    When on holidays we make the most of it and go out in whatever weather we’re dealt. However if given a choice, when at home, I’ll wait for a nice sunny comfortable day to step outside and capture nature scenes. Your visual examples are excellent in showing potential beautiful scenery that I could be missing out on. Next time I plan an outing, I’ll look at the weather forecast to see what I should wear, instead of whether or not I should go.

    Thank you for your informative Articles.
    Dave Bennett

  11. Ed B.

    Hey Matt,

    Always love your pictures. I really want to make it to your level. And for me, it’s good to see a little sensor dust in your top image. Makes me feel better.. 🙂

    Come back to Austin, I need a good class for photoshop/lightroom CC. Maybe a good 2 day class would be good.

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