Travel Photography: What to Do When the Weather Sucks
If there’s one thing I learned from my trips to places like Ireland and Scotland is that if it’s not raining now, it will rain soon. My latest trip to the Scottish Highlands and to the Isle of Skye was no exception. In fact, most of the time I spent there was marred not just by rain, but by bad weather of some kind, including fog and strong winds. And this made travel photography incredibly difficult.
Now, I don’t get to spend a whole week on a trip designed exclusively for photography very often. So whenever I get the chance, I make a point to exploit every situation I might encounter, no matter how much the climate might be unfavorable. Because of this attitude, I’ve learned a few tricks that I’m going to share in this article. If you follow my advice, nothing will stop you from taking great photos under any skies. Basically, there is (almost) no such thing as bad weather for me.
Find Subjects that Work Well with Grey Skies
Scotland–and the Isle of Skye in particular–are rich in waterfalls and waterfalls look great under overcast conditions. They actually look much better than under direct sunlight, because the bright flowing water reflects so much sunlight that you almost invariably end up overexposing it. Just remember to frame your shot so that you include as little of the sky as possible.
Learn to Love the Fog
I got up very early one morning to drive all the way to Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe. In my mind’s eye, I had pictures of the rising sun’s light making the mist glow on the glassy surface of the lake, with the castle in the distance emerging from it.
These conditions can happen quite often in the fall, so I was excited to be driving through patchy clouds of fog on my way there, thinking the weather couldn’t have been better.
To my dismay, when I got there right before sunrise, the fog was not patchy at all, but rather so thick that, at times, you couldn’t see the castle. I stayed there for more than two hours hoping for the blanket of fog to partially lift as the sun started warming the air, but no such luck.
Still, I wasn’t deterred and made the best of the situation by creating moody and mysterious pictures, both of the castle and of the small copse of trees that surround the usual viewing spot.
Focus on the Details
Pieces of decaying vegetation, like this trunk fallen across a small creek and made wet from the rain, can make great subjects for intimate shots. Just remember to use the polarizing filter to cut the glare of the reflections.
Never Trust the Weatherman
In a place where weather conditions change rapidly, you can never count on the forecast to be exactly accurate. This was the case one morning on Skye. The forecast was for incessant rain, but I set the alarm clock to an early hour anyway. I peeked out the window and noticed it wasn’t raining so I grabbed a quick coffee, jumped on the car, and drove to the Quiraing.
As a matter of fact, the rain didn’t arrive until around 11.30AM, more than three hours after I reached the location, which I was able to explore without getting soaked. To be sure, the light was quite flat and not as dramatic as I would have liked, but it was good for making the colors pop, again with judicious use of a polarizing filter, and not overwhelm the sensor with too much contrast.
On another day, we drove to Talisker bay under the rain, hoping to get something. Alas, the wind was strong and, no matter what I tried, I could not keep the lens clean. As a consequence, I was only able to snap a quick iPhone pano of this amazing location, while all my “proper” camera pictures were ruined by water drops. I guess I’ll just have to go back there soon.
On the same day, not wanting to be stuck inside, I drove all the way to Neist Point. Despite the forecast, the rain stopped as soon as I arrived, allowing me to shoot a few long exposures.
Stay Longer… It Will Get Better Eventually
There is only one thing that you can be sure of about the weather: if it’s really bad, it will get better. If you travel all the way to Scotland, I recommend staying there more than a few days in order to maximize your chances of finding the ideal conditions. There is a rainbow at the end of the road!
Once in a blue moon, you might even get a perfectly clear sky at the blue hour.
Visit a Distillery
If all else fails, you still have an option: visit a distillery, like Talisker on Skye. Not that there’s much to photograph there and shooting inside the distillery proper is actually prohibited (not that this stopped me anyway) but at least the whisky you can taste is great. Just remember to drink responsibly!
So next time you find yourself trying your hand at travel photography in bad light and uncooperative weather, try to think outside the box and you may just come way with some stunning photos.