Why Storm Light Is Incredible for Landscape Photography and How To Photograph It

When a storm hits it is time to grab your camera and get out shooting because the light and dynamics of the weather are phenomenal!

Over the past years, I have experienced some real joys of photographing in harsh weather. I continually keep an eye on the weather forecast and when a storm is predicted, I know it is time to get out with the camera. The dynamics of the weather and light vary a lot, so you will get many opportunities for photographing a big variety of photos.

Storms come in many different kinds and shapes, but what I refer to specifically are those full of showers and changing amounts of clouds. If you can see, the forecast will change a lot between sun, clouds, and rain throughout the day and there are high winds that is when you will get the “best” light.

A Little Thing To Know

It is important to notice that I am located in Denmark. During the winter months, the sun will only be between 13 and 25 degrees above the horizon at midday. Although not golden hour light, the low sun will of course have a significant effect on the photos. The photos in this article were taken during January, but I have similar experiences during February.

Photograph Through the Entire Day

The first benefit of this kind of weather is that it is constantly changing and will keep changing throughout the day. In the above video, I arrived at my destination just before midday and already had three great photos and fantastic B-roll within the first hour. Besides photographing around the church, I also photographed a lighthouse about a kilometer further north. I could have stayed at the church and gotten even more photos, but decided to mix it up because good quality photos just kept popping.

I got three great photos around the lighthouse within a time span of only 30 minutes. It only took two passing showers to photograph the lighthouse from three different angles, to get the photos In this article. I explored the area a bit more and found some stairs leading down to the water, where I also got several great photos.

At sunset, I decided to go back to the church, where I got three more great photos. One before sunset and a couple just after, where the sun lit up a big cloud behind the church.

The Light Varies a Lot

With the constantly changing weather, you can have rain, dramatic clouds, and sun within a gap of only ten minutes, which is how I managed to get that many photos in a short time. We all know just how amazing it looks when you are surrounded by rain clouds and the sun breaks through. Rainbows, sunbeams, glowing rain, and dabbled light adds great dynamics to the scene.  

If you can time it right and fight through a shower, try to get the photo just before the sun reappears from behind the clouds. In the below photo, I am photographing towards the sun and the cloud is moving towards me. As I was also close to the sea, the sunlight was reflected on the sea up onto the underside of the clouds, which added even more drama to the scene. I got the photo at midday and it turned out to be my favorite from the entire day.

Add to all this the atmosphere. Clouds and rain add a great atmosphere, but, when you are next to the sea and beach during high winds, the air also becomes full of small water particles and dust. These particles add a bit of diffusion to the light and even more so when the sun breaks through. It is especially visible on the lighthouse and staircase photos I got.

The Light Makes the Difference

It is no secret that “good light” is one of the big factors for getting great photos. Usually, I prefer not to talk about “good light”. I prefer the term “optimal light” and that should be seen in relation to what you photograph and your vision. The light I got was dramatic and added a lot of character and dynamics to the relatively simple scenes. That was what I went for. However, there is no doubt that other kinds of light and weather could have worked great for these scenes too.

Of all the lighthouses we have in Denmark, this one is not my favorite at all. I like the color, but the shape and surroundings are a bit “meh”. I would say that the dramatic and golden light made a significant difference and complimented the red color of the lighthouse perfectly, which made it one of the best photos I have seen from this location and one of my personal favorite lighthouse photos I have caught.

Settings, Gear, and Accessories

On a day like this with such changing conditions, the light also changes a lot, which results in you having to change your exposure. For the majority of the photos, there was plenty of light to photograph handheld. With an aperture between f/8 and f/11 to get everything in focus at the sharpest aperture of the lens, my shutter speeds varied between 1/50 and 1/1000 of a second at ISO100. From time to time, I had to increase to ISO200 or ISO400 to photograph handheld, which is no problem on my Sony a7R III. I would for the most part recommend a tripod (something at least semi-sturdy), but due to the high winds do not expect it to help against micro-vibrations. You will still need a relatively high shutter speed and keep your hands on the camera while photographing to avoid shaky photos. The tripod can probably help you save a stop or two of light and guard you against the worst gusts.

For the first two photos in the video above, I used the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens, but I eventually changed to my Tamron 28-200 f/2.8-5.6 Di iii RXD, which I kept using for the rest of the day. That lens turned out to be very practical.

Be sure to check out the video above, to see the “on location” shoots and a discussion on vertical format vs horizontal format for landscape photography. Finally, let me know how you feel about storm light. Is it something you will be more aware of now?

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5 Comments

Sapna Reddy's picture

Beautiful images. Love the dynamic conditions. I agree a passing storm is a true delight to photograph. So many varied opportunities to portray the light.

A B's picture

I live for these days. I can get 6 months worth of sellable Images in one good long day of shooting a storm. Some storm days are grey, dark, cold, wet, and boring. Other storm days are literally white knuckle as I drive to different vantage points watching the sun light up new and beautiful scenes. I hustle. Changing atmosphere, light, and color is no joke. I've missed shots changing my battery, that's how quick a cloud can dissappear, or a shadow can reshape a textured mountainside.

Kai Hornung's picture

So true! Weather changes usually make for great light.

Aritz Atela's picture

Changing weather conditions are lansdcape’s photographer’s gift. So many different shots with different light one can take. A gem! Awesome article and video as usual Mads ;)

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

Love this kind of drama!