When Bad isn't So Bad

March 10, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Now You See It...Now You See It...Cold temperatures and early morning rain create rolling waves of fog which alternate between transparent, translucent and opaque - occasionally exposing a wonderfully moody scene at Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park, Utah
What exactly is bad weather? Photographically speaking, maybe there isn't any such thing. Perhaps the same can be said about bad light. 

Maybe it's all a matter of perspective. 

Of course it's disappointing if the conditions make it impossible to create the type of image you had in mind - but that doesn't mean you can't make good photos. 

Similarly, a lot of people will tell you the only times worth shooting are during the golden hours.

Those who wait for ideal conditions spend a lot of time waiting and miss scores of opportunities along the way. 

"Bad" and "good" are simply labels. Bad weather can actually be quite good. As for the quality of the light, compelling photographs can be made at any time of the day. Bad weather or bad light might turn out to be...nearly ideal.

It's more constructive to think in terms of what's possible given the conditions. 

Bad Weather

Don't be afraid of rain and/or snow. Your camera can take it; so can you.

  • Autumn foliage is even more vibrantly colorful when it's wet; the dampness acts like a giant enhancing filter. Just remember to use your polarizer to manage glare. 
  • Storms can create dramatic skies: before, during and immediately after. Rainbows, too. 
  • With precipitation can come ephemeral mist and fog.
  • There will be reflections in puddles and water droplets clinging to leaves and branches: many opportunities to get creative.
  • Everyone knows snow looks best when it's pristine. Get outside when it's coming down! You can either freeze falling snow or transform it into impressionistic streaks.

One word of caution: remember to check the surface of your lens frequently for water spots. They may not be visible when looking through the viewfinder but the camera will see them and they can ruin an image. Keep a lens cloth handy. 

The photograph at the top of the post is an example of interesting conditions created by "bad" weather. This early morning in Arches National Park was cold and windy with squalls depositing mixed precipitation. Rain, then sleet, then snow, then back to biting rain. Thick fog rolled across the landscape, sometimes completely obscuring Balanced Rock.

It was definitely uncomfortable out there but fascinating to watch the fog; it put on quite a show. I waited for an opening during which Balanced Rock was mostly visible but with enough light fog surrounding it to wash the scene in white. By making this a panoramic I was able to provide more context, both in terms of the weather and the surrounding landscape.  SkylineSkylineNear Moab, Utah Bad Light

Mid-day light is probably the most maligned when it comes to what's considered "bad." While its quality is much different than what you'll encounter at the edges of the day - and it behaves differently - you can create interesting images in bright light. Keep your eyes open and the camera handy.

  • Take advantage of high contrast: you might try thinking in terms of black and white compositions. Distill the scene to its essence. Shapes, textures, lines and tonal contrast are elements that lend themselves well to black and white.   
  • Be mindful of how you can use backlighting to your advantage. 
  • It's sometimes easier to manage contrast with a smaller scene; pull out a long lens and look for more intimate compositions. Notice the interplay of light and shadow - including the shapes and lines they create; look for patterns and textures.
  • Don't forget open shade. Even if there are no natural objects nearby to create it, you can make your own with an umbrella or collapsible diffuser.

I made the photograph above near Moab, Utah in the middle of the day with a little bit of a smorgasbord in the unsettled sky, including a few small patches of blue. Even in the absence of full sun the scene was very bright with quite a bit of haze which washed out the color in the rock. Both above and below the colors were distractions. Going with black and white eliminated that issue and also changed the character of the sky. Black and white intensifies the high contrast, renders the rock in silhouette, and simplifies the scene. It underscores what caught my eye in the first place: lines and shapes.

The photograph below was made just before noon, also near Moab. The light couldn't have been more harsh but it's precisely that strong backlighting which made the tree pop. It nearly sparkled; the delicate twigs were rendered silvery white. The appearance of depth is magnified because the subject is lit from behind.

Standing as it does beneath a huge red rock wall, the tree is in full shade for much of the day. But for the bright noon-hour sunlight you'd probably pass by this scene without seeing it.

GracefulGracefulNear Moab, Utah

Weather is weather and light is light: neither is inherently good or bad. Successful photographs can be made in all sorts of conditions. 


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