Breaking Storms

“Breaking Storm”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA

For landscape photographers, storms are a double-edged sword. Too much storm stuff – you know, clouds, wind, rain, etc. – and you can be shut out. Too much storm stuff is almost as bad as no storm stuff – clear, blue, cloudless skies. Oh yeah, that’s bad too.

I can’t remember where I was at the time, but I was staying at a hotel doing photography for an extended stay. Every morning, the front desk clerk commented on the weather, knowing I was a nature photographer.

“Looks like you’re in luck today,” he would say happily. “Beautiful sunny skies ordered up just for you.” I would explain that sunny blue skies kind of sucked, but I would do the best I could in spite of them. He seemed confused, but after some explaining on my part, I think he understood a little bit.

The next time I saw him a day or two later, the weather was lousy. The sky was completely socked in with a featureless, grey pewter ceiling with the wind gusting.

“So, is this more to your liking?”

“Ummm. Not exactly. Say, do you have any of those fresh-baked cookies and coffee ready?”

This illustrates a couple of things. First, we photographers are never really happy with the weather. We too easily forget the fantastic successes we’ve had in the past and focus only on what the weather conditions are at the present time, and those conditions are usually the wrong ones – or at least appear to be wrong.

“Clearing Storm”
Fitz Roy Massif, Argentina

Secondly, “bad” weather for us usually applies to the extremes. Low pressure is bad. High pressure is even worse. What pleases us most are the edges – particularly rotten, stormy weather as it starts to clear. How many images have you seen with the title, “Breaking Storm” or “Clearing Storm?” Too many, you say?

That’s because for sheer drama, both light and clouds are what we want in our images. Approaching bad weather is usually slow and methodical with accumulating high cirrus clouds followed by flat grey skies. Before you know it, the sky is dreary and you’re getting drenched. It just sort of happened. There doesn’t appear to be any singular or dramatic event to capture. But a clearing storm always seems to have a defining moment when the clouds break and something magical happens. It doesn’t always happen, mind you, but I want to be in a good place, ready to go, if and when it does.

So if I’m home for a couple of weeks, – as I am now – and I want to go out in the field for a day or two, I’m going to watch the weather closely and pick my moment when a rain or snow system is breaking or a cold front is approaching. You can never control the weather but you can increase the odds of getting dramatic light by timing your photography trips around clearing storms.

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  1. Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm by Kayt | Permalink

    Richard, so nicely told I feel like I was there, just as in your incredibly beautiful photography work.

  2. Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm by Hend | Permalink

    amazing work :)) love it

  3. Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm by Mathias | Permalink

    Bad weather is pretty much any time I can’t step outside without getting drenched to the bone. My camera tends to dislike those conditions… apart from that, you’re probably right: we photographers as a group are never entirely satisfied with the weather and always find something to complain about, right?

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