Photographing the Weather Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing the Weather Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Dramatic weather can make for dramatic photographs, and your digital SLR is just the camera to help you capture all kind of weather phenomena, including lightning, rainbows, fog, and rain storms.

Keep yourself and your camera safe. Don’t go out during an electrical storm — you can get photos from under cover or inside a car so that you and your camera stay safe and dry.

When you leave an air-conditioned space to go into a moisture-laden atmosphere, give your camera time to acclimate to the humidity before you start taking pictures; otherwise, you may get condensation on your lens.

Photographing dark and stormy — or foggy — weather

Dark days give you little light to work with, so you need an ISO setting of 400. However, dim conditions require that you use a medium aperture of f/8.0 to f/11.0. In any conditions, set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. Image stabilization is useful if you’re shooting in really dim conditions and don’t want to switch to a higher ISO setting.

The focal length should be between 24mm and 70mm, depending on your point of interest; if you’re photographing wildlife, set the ISO at 100mm.

When you photograph in stormy weather, the sky full of angry clouds should be the predominant part of your photograph, so place the horizon line in the lower third of the image:


In a foggy photo, find a splash of color — wildflowers or wildlife, including birds — to use as a focal point and put the horizon in the upper third of the image:


Photographing lightning

You can get great pictures of lightning at night using your digital SLR, a tripod, and a remote trigger. If you want to catch lightning in the daytime, you need to invest in a sensor that mounts to your hot shoe and triggers the shutter when it detects lightning.

Setting your digital SLR to shoot lightening

You want to capture one or more streaks of lightning per exposure, so set the camera to Bulb mode so that the shutter stays open as long as the shutter button is fully pressed. An aperture of f/16 and ISO setting of 100 ensure that you have an exposure of ten seconds or longer. Because your camera is mounted on a tripod, turn image stabilization off.

Taking pictures of lightening

Compose the picture so that a prominent building or landmark is off to one side to create viewer interest. Place the horizon line in the lower third of the image to draw attention to the lightning. Press the remote button halfway to achieve focus, then press it fully to take the picture. Count off about 20 seconds, and then release the remote.

[Credit: PhotoDisc/Getty Images]
Credit: PhotoDisc/Getty Images

Photographing rainbows

You may never find a pot of gold, but you can capture wonderful pictures of rainbows using your digital SLR. Use Aperture Priority mode and a medium to small aperture — f/11 or smaller — to obtain a large depth of field and keep everything in focus. Because the sun is shining, use an ISO setting of 100 or 200. Multiple auto-focus points ensure that the camera finds objects with contrasting edges. A wide-angle focal length of 28mm to 35mm lets you capture the grand vista and the entire rainbow without having to back up into the next county.

You want to photograph the rainbow from end to end, making it the prominent part of your image, with just a bit of the scenery on either side. If the entire rainbow won’t fit in the frame, find an object to signify an end:

[Credit: Image State]
Credit: Image State

Some special equipment and techniques come into play with rainbows:

  • A polarizing filter can help make the rainbow’s colors vibrant. Rotate the outer ring of the polarizing filter until you see something you like in the viewfinder.

  • Rainbows are transparent, so you can have trouble photographing them if the background is just a mass of gray clouds. Try moving to a different angle.

  • When you’re too close to get the whole rainbow in the frame, rotate the camera 90 degrees to capture a picture of the rainbow arcing through the frame.