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.

  • Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

    Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

  • River Etive and Buachaille Etive Mor, Scotland

    River Etive and Buachaille Etive Mor

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.

  • Travel Photography example from Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Scotland

    Travel Photography in Fog: Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Scotland

  • Travel Photo example in fog near Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Scotland

    Travel Photography in fog near Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Scotland

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.

Finnich Glen, Scotland

Finnich Glen

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.

The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Quiraing, Isle of Skye

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.

Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

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.

  • Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    Neist Point, Isle of Skye

  • Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    Neist Point, Isle of Skye

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!

  • Glen Etive, Scotland

    Glen Etive

  • The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye

  • Loch Tulla, Scotland

    Loch Tulla

  • Ruined church and graveyard, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    On the Road to Elgol, Isle of Skye

  • Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond, Scotland

    Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond

Once in a blue moon, you might even get a perfectly clear sky at the blue hour.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

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!

  • Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye

  • Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, Scotland

    Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye

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.

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About Author Ugo Cei

Ugo Cei is a fine-art travel and landscape photographer from Italy. If you were to ask him what he does, he would say that he is an educator who helps photography enthusiasts sharpen their skills, so that they can take amazing pictures.

He does this in various ways. First of all, by providing a wealth of free content here on Visual Wilderness and on his own website.

He leads photography tours and workshops to some cool destinations, including Tuscany, Venice, Milan, Tanzania, and others.

He co-hosts and publishes a weekly podcast about travel photography, The Traveling Image Makers. Every week, they pick the brains of famous and not-so-famous travel photographers to learn what it means to travel for the love of photography and photograph for the love of travel.