Musings on: absence of the ‘right’ weather

It’s too sunny today. Last week, it was too murky. Recently, several times, it’s been too rainy. Why is it that – and I’m pretty sure it’s not just me – landscape photographers are so often unhappy, or at least discontented with the weather conditions?

On numerous occasions recently, mostly when I’ve arranged to meet with someone to take photographs, I have found myself complaining, either internally or out loud, about the nature of the weather. Arguably, I’ve focused on bemoaning the quality of the light, rather than the weather itself, but it all comes down to the weather really. One of the features of Great Britain is that the weather is more than a little variable; not in the long term – it can’t reasonably be said to ever be really hot, or really cold (though it tried hard last winter, with a nippy minus 20C near my house), and compared to many places it barely ever precipitates in any genuinely major manner – but in the short term it varies enormously. The result of this is that planning for photography – or pretty much anything else involving being outdoors, come to that – is not as easy as it might be were the weather more predictable.

One day not terribly long ago, I experienced snow, rain and sleet during just one day! I feel entirely justified in complaining about this since it’s unpleasant to be out in, but I may have been compounding my disappointment with the weather’s pleasantness, or otherwise, with additional gripes related to it being ‘not right for photography‘ for a whole series of different reasons. From my sample of half a dozen people, I’m not alone in this manner of thinking.

At the moment, for example, the sun is shining in a clear, blue, near-cloud-free sky; lovely (it really is, better than most summer days in North Yorkshire in recent years). Except that it isn’t what I want to photograph. Everything is totally bleached out, and when the sun heads towards the horizon nothing interesting is going to happen – at least, I suspect as much because today is very much like yesterday (in contradiction to the earlier complaint, of course – you see, not even the variability is consistent!).

What I want to photograph is ‘dramatic light’. I’ve been making images in haze, mist, fog and light rain for several weeks now and I need a change. The trouble with that is that ‘dramatic light’ tends to equate to storms, which in turn are usually characterised by high winds (tripod blowing around – not good) and water in various forms falling out of the sky (uncomfortable and leading to frequent lens-cleaning – also not desirable).

So, if the weather was doing what I want photographically, and providing the much-sought-after ‘dramatic light’, I could still moan about it. This is emphatically not a useful or constructive attitude! A change has to be made, and that’s what prompted me to start writing this musing.

It’s too late to ‘save’ today – I have no real idea of what I can photograph effectively on days like this – but what I’m going to do instead is pore over maps, think about places I’ve been, or intend to go, and work out what type of weather I would ideally like to photograph them in. More precisely, I’m going to produce a table showing weather conditions – I have yet to work out how granular this will be, but ‘clear, blue sky / rain / mist / snow’ is a minimal starting point – and then list every location I can think of against each of these. In practice, I shall probably do this in reverse: start off with locations, work out what sort of weather they’d suit, then tabulate it, determine where the gaps in my little table are, and attempt to fill them in.

Assuming that a) I do this, b) I can think of at least one location for each weather condition, c) I actually remember I’ve done it and use the table, I should be able to find somewhere to go in future, whatever the weather, without wasting all of the time I’d put aside for photography working out where I should be and what I should be pointing the camera at. Put another way, it may help me to avoid the far too common pattern wherein prevarication leads to my not getting out at all as I’ve run out of time…

To get to the point of this post: with the help of this location planning, I am intending to work on the basis, from now on, that there is no such thing as bad weather, in terms of photographs. Instead, I shall work with there are bad combinations of weather and location which can make finding a composition unnecessarily difficult if it’s not been thought of in advance. And I shall have thought of these things in advance!

I shall cite an image I made recently as an example of that hypothesis – it’s not a proof, just an example. ‘Forceful mist’ was made on a bright, sunny day, and that’s precisely why the location worked, being hidden in a deep, shadowy gorge, but with the water lit by the high levels of ambient light.

'Forceful mist'

So, I have a possible solution to enable me to take photographs in virtually any conditions now, provided that I manage to make the table. The trouble is, other than when it’s snowy – I like snow – I shall still be able to complain about the weather.

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