How to photograph during windy conditions

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Vestrahorn, Iceland

Storm over the Dunes – Vestrahorn, Iceland

Do you put your camera away when it gets windy? Or do you pull it out and let the wind paint a picture for you? I took the above shot on a stormy afternoon in Vestrahorn, Iceland. I wanted to capture the feel of the moment – not just the heavy storm clouds over that beautiful, black sand – but the biting wind, too. I put my camera on my tripod – made sure it was steady with the help of my camera bag – and used a long exposure to capture the movement of the grasses as they fluttered in the wind. In fact, I waited for a really strong gust so I could get the look I wanted. I believe in embracing the weather – as long as it’s safe to do so.

Banff National Park - Alberta, Canada

Evening Light on Mount Rundle – Banff National Park – Alberta, Canada

I took the above shot in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada – once again, with the help of a tripod and a long exposure. The beautiful alpenglow on the mountain was awesome, but I wanted to tie it in to the foreground. So, I used the blowing thistle flowers in the foreground to add another touch of purple to the scene. The blurred color fills the foreground, and provides a sense of place for the viewer. You can almost feel the wind!

Glacier National Park - Montana, USA

A windy evening at Glacier National Park – Montana, USA

Here are some tips for working in very windy conditions:

  1. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady. I sometimes hang my camera bag on the hook on the center column of my Induro tripod. It adds some weight and stability when I really need it. The trick is to make sure solid elements in the frame are nice and sharp – like the mountain in the above shot from Glacier National Park. Flowers, trees, and clouds should blur – but if that mountain is blurred, you risk producing an image that looks like a mistake, rather than a deliberate choice.
  2. Use the motion of your subject to get creative. I always see photographers putting their camera away when it gets really windy… but the wind is really just another opportunity to get creative. Play with it and see what you get! I love shooting flowers dancing in the wind because I can use a long exposure to make the colors blur. A small flower can make a big blur of color with a few seconds of exposure time and a steady tripod.
  3. Try to avoid bracketing in windy conditions if you can. Blending a shot with moving elements is very difficult. You’ll get a “ghosting” effect when grasses, trees, and clouds sway in the wind.
Sunrise Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge - Oregon, USA

Sunrise Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge – Oregon, USA

I took the shot above with my tripod low to the ground – and my hat pulled down around my ears. 😉 It was a chilly morning, and the wind was vicious… but with a sky like that, I wasn’t going to stay in the car! A long exposure captured the motion of the grass against the dark rocks behind, and provided a dynamic foreground that compliments a brilliant sunrise.

Of course, you can use these tips any time you are shooting a moving subject – whether it’s windy or not. I often use a tripod and a long exposure when I’m photographing waves, too. With a shutter speed of a second or two, I can capture the motion of the water as it moves, creating smooth patterns and flow lines.

Big Island, Hawaii

Water filling the Blowhole – Big Island, Hawaii

Each shot of a moving subject will be completely unique. So get out there, and have fun with the wind!

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.