As the old adage goes, bad weather makes the best landscape photography or something like that, right? It’s no secret that to photograph the most colorful and dramatic scenery, the weather must be in your favor. It is almost a formula for a successful landscape photograph. You can plan and prepare by looking at weather reports through various sites and applications.
This year has already been exceptionally active weather-wise. Here in Arizona, the last bits of a freak snowstorm over the Sonoran desert are melting away. One particular local area of interest was that of the Four Peaks Wilderness. For the week leading up to the storm, I kept a close eye on weather patterns and projected snowfall totals. The mountains here rise over 7k feet in elevation and stand tall above the Saguaro-filled landscape surrounding them. It is not uncommon for these mountains to get a dusting of snow from year to year, but to potentially have over two feet of snow on them was astonishing. This is why I kept a close eye, refreshing the websites tracking the winter storms path.
Each time I refreshed the page, it showed the same data. This was across three separate websites (NOAA, Intellicast, and Windy). I knew this had potential for a photograph I had in mind for nearly a decade, showcasing the snow-capped peaks and contrasting desert landscape below. I weighed my options on the best chance to get the shot. The following day called for clear skies. Knowing the alpenglow could be magnificent, I debated the potential. I did miss the sunset though due to being stuck in crazy traffic. However, I returned the following evening with clouds in the sky and plenty of time to scout a composition.
After finding the ideal composition, all that was needed was the light. As the clouds swept over the landscape, the horizon broke open allowing for a spectacular sunset. The sky was glowing in shades of pink and orange while light reflected down onto the Saguaro forest. I took a series of vertical frames to later stitch into a panoramic scene and finally had my shot.
Even with all the planning and preparation for a shoot, the weather can still be quite unpredictable at times. In these instances, it is good to have a backup plan or try to adapt to these adverse conditions. It is also quite possible that because of these unpredictable conditions, you may create some of your best photographs. This has been the case many times for myself and has yielded some of my most popular photographs to date.
One perfect example is the landscape photo below of the Superstition Mountains. Throughout the week, I checked weather forecasts to see if there was anything worthwhile. The entire week showed a 10% chance of showers, yet every day was clear blue. I went out anyways one of those days with the expectations to get a classic scene with wildflowers and the mountain backdrop with hopefully some scattered clouds. After being out for an hour, I noticed dark clouds coming in fast from the north. Within a matter of minutes, the storm barreled in and began pouring rain. Not only was it raining, but also pounding thunder and lightning striking in all directions. I could tell this storm was going to pass over before sunset, so I scrambled to find a composition. Soaking wet and completely unprepared for this type of weather, I waited out the rain.
As the storm tapered off, the sky erupted in golden hues as the sun broke through and under the layer of clouds. Although the rain had subsided, the lightning was still going off in all directions as was the sunset. Somehow managing to keep the camera dry, I just kept clicking the shutter with my remote hoping to land a strike. When the winds finally calmed, I had a six-second exposure going when the last strike came down beside the mountain. When I looked back on the LCD screen, I saw the strike I captured and couldn’t believe it. None of the atmospheric conditions could have been expected based on the weather reports I had seen.
Sometimes the conditions will not be favorable. This seems to happen more often than not, for me at least. The most common perpetrator are low clouds on the horizon at sunrise or sunset. Some apps can calculate cloud cover, even the density of clouds to determine the possibility of good or bad light. Again, those apps can be wrong and the weather can do its own thing. The best course of action is to just be out there. Giving yourself as many opportunities to be in position for when things break and even when you need to adapt and change course.