Planning a trip can be daunting. Agonizing over where and when to travel, researching places to stay, and making lists of things to do–all while trying to keep within budget–sounds and is exhausting.
Even with flawless planning, things can still go wrong in real time. Bags can get lost, hotels that looked good online can disappoint in person, and sunny skies can quickly turn dark and stormy.
As a photographer, weather plays a vitally important role when I’m on the road. And for the past two years Mother Nature has decided to test my patience and perseverance as well as my ability to adapt to unpredictable situations by treating me to travels filled with rain.
On a trip to Guatemala my plan was to shoot Lake Atitlan at sunrise and the ruins of Tikal at sunset. It rained the entire time I was there. In Iceland, I had hopes of shooting the unique volcanic landscapes in amazing light. It was pouring. And while I was in Sydney shooting for a National Geographic Travel guidebook and hoping to capture Australia’s biggest city in all its summer glory, it was the rainiest summer in the last 150 years.
When you’ve traveled very far and weather conditions aren’t what you were expecting, you can’t pack your bags and go home. You simply have to make the best of it, look for the silver lining to that cloudy day. As frustrating as bad weather can be, more often than not I end up with images that are far more special than anything I could have captured had the weather been “good.”
Here are five tips for taking great photos in bad weather:
1. Embrace the rain (but protect your gear). Most camera stores sell cheap rain covers that only cost a few dollars and wearing a poncho will keep you and your camera bag dry. These highly packable items will become your best friend when you’re photographing in the rain. While there are many rain covers out there, I like the Op/Tech USA rain sleeve for its simplicity and ease of use. DIY trick: If you forget to bring one and can’t find a camera store where you are, improvise by wrapping a Ziploc bag around your camera (secure it with rubber bands) and poking a hole for the lens. Trash bags double as ponchos, too.
2. Study human behavior. Once I have my rain sleeve on my camera, I love watching people scurrying around in the rain. I am usually able to capture a wide range of emotions and spontaneous moments that may not have happened otherwise.
3. Go inside. Walking around in the rain can be enjoyable, but when you have expensive camera gear you may not want to risk getting it wet. This is the time to go inside–to museums, shops, restaurants, people’s homes if they let you. If you want to be outside, but out of harm’s way, find a covered area, or shoot from inside a car.
4. Make lemonade. There are thousands of photos of the Sydney Opera House at sunset and Angkor Wat at sunrise, but not everyone is lucky enough to get that perfect magic-hour light. Luckily, inclement weather can give your photographs an edge. Stormy weather makes for dramatic–and photogenic–skies full of color and texture.
5. Look down. One of the great things rain creates is puddles and reflections. Everyone tends to be in a hurry when they’re walking in the rain. As a photographer, instead of looking at the people around you, look down at the puddles and the street. Often, with the right timing, you can catch a unique reflection that tells a story of the day.