Photography masterclass: Take a dim view
As professional photographer Peter Cairns shows, there’s no such thing as ‘bad weather’ – just plenty of new opportunities
A friend once said to me: “The weather in Scotland is either very good or it’s interesting.” Now, in truth, my friend is a sandwich short of a picnic. But of course he is absolutely right, and ‘interesting’ weather is what defines the British landscape. More than that, it’s what creates it. We wouldn’t have our beloved snow-capped hills, our wild, rain-lashed coastlines and our mind-bogglingly complex network of rivers and wetlands without the weather – that very same weather we tend to whinge and whine about.
I’m not one for standing on a hurricane- struck headland getting soaked for the sake of it; I like my home comforts as much as the next man. But when it comes to photography, I’d like to think that I recognise opportunity where opportunity might not be obvious.
So what is ‘bad weather’? Well, that depends on who you’re asking, but let’s look at two types. Autumn tends to bring a series of frontal systems that deliver deluge after deluge, in between which there can be the most exciting and fantastic light. But that light is fleeting, and if you’re not in position – if you’ve not withstood the deluge – you’re likely to miss out.
The image above of a greylag goose is a case in point. It rained heavily for just a few minutes and – by being in position to backlight the pouring wet stuff – I was able to emphasise the rain, giving a straightforward wildlife portrait a bit of extra energy. I positioned the goose quite low in the frame, as this image is about the weather rather than the bird.
Dull conditions, vibrant photos
The other ‘bad weather’ is seemingly dull, lifeless conditions, which somehow straddle the line between not quite good but then not quite bad, either. For me, these conditions can work really well.
In the absence of any shadows provided by the sun, landscapes can look flat to the eye. But, in fact, the detail that is revealed in soft, overcast light can be put to good use. Take the shot opposite of an autumnal river. Shooting in low, ‘dull’ light (and using a polarising filter) allowed me to blur the swirling foam against the peaty water and also record the vibrant autumnal colour of the bank-side forest. Neither would have been possible in ‘nice’ weather.
When I’m running workshops, I very often despair at the weather and have to reach to the furthest corners of my mind to come up with photographic possibilities for my guests. But time and time again, once I’m out in the field equipped with an open mind, it’s amazing what opportunities present themselves – especially in what might initially appear to be ‘bad’ weather. Remember: it’s not ‘bad’, it’s ‘interesting’!
• Learn to anticipate certain weather systems and be in position in advance.
• Be well protected and sit out the showers knowing it will come good.
• On overcast days, leave the sky out of your picture and concentrate on sections or details within the landscape.
• Use a polarising filter when photographing water or wet surfaces – it will reduce reflections and deepen natural colour.
• Shoot landscapes using a low ISO setting, allowing for maximum image quality and slow shutter speeds to ‘blur’ moving water.
Step by step
1. For this image (above) I chose a day after heavy rain, when there was lots of moisture in the air – not quite fog, but not far off.
2. The linear trunks looked almost like a bar code – simple graphic lines with no colour and minimal texture.
3. By placing the autumnal foliage of a golden aspen tree in front of the main forest, I was able to add big blobs of colour, which provided a foil for the monochromatic background.
4. I experimented using different angles, different lenses and a few different techniques – in the end I was at this location for a couple of hours.
5. There are shots to be had in almost any conditions – it’s a case of recognising what works and shooting accordingly. But the bottom line is that you need to be out there!
Send us a great image taken in dull weather conditions could win a Nikon D3200 DSLR kit, worth £649.99! Click here to find out more and enter the competition.