Taking Photographs in Challenging Light

How to Take Photographs in Challenging Light and Weather Conditions

In this tutorial, we will take a look at some of the more challenging light and weather conditions we can encounter when taking photographs outdoors. All of these situations can be trick to photograph in but the results can be very striking.

Taking Photographs in the Rain

We often have a tendency to put the camera away when it rains. Rain, however, can present some great opportunities for some very interesting and original photographs.

Challenging weather - taking reflection photographs in the rain.
Reflections in a puddle on St. Mark’s Square – Venice, Italy

Rainy evenings are great for capturing reflections. On my first evening in Venice, St Mark’s Square was still covered in large puddles from the previous day’s Aqua Alta (flooding) and rain. In this shot, I was able to capture the reflection of the exquisite facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in one of the huge puddles that covered the piazza at blue hour. I did ruin my shoes though.

Challenging light and weather - taking photographs in the rain mixed with sunshine.
Rain and wet cobbles – Val d’Europe, France

The combination of wet paving, reflections and evening sunlight can make for some very interesting and unusual photos. I took this shot on my phone at Val d’Europe near Disneyland Paris.

Taking Photographs in Stormy Conditions

In the last photo, we saw that rare but beautiful combination of a dark moody sky combined with the golden evening light. It’s a really special combination but it doesn’t occur too often.

Challenging weather - taking photographs with a stormy sky.
Stormy sky – Prague, Czech Republic

I was lucky to capture this unusual combination of light and dark while at the top of the Old Town Hall Tower in Prague. This brief moment of light contrasted beautifully with the dark stormy sky. This can make for challenging lighting conditions as you have to expose for both the dark sky and brightly illuminated buildings.

Taking Photographs in the Snow

I mentioned in the tutorial on exposure settings that is often necessary to overexpose your shot slightly when shooting in snowy conditions in order to avoid the snow turning out grey in the photograph.

Challenging weather - taking photographs in the snow.
Snow at St. Mary’s church – Clonsilla, Ireland

You don’t always have to travel far to take interesting photographs. St. Mary’s Church in Clonsilla is only a fifteen minute walk from my front door.

Taking Photographs in Misty Conditions

There is nothing more atmospheric than a misty morning. Having the opportunity to photograph a scene bathed in mist can often be a simple matter of luck. Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast can increase your chances though.

Challenging weather - taking photographs with mist lying on the ground.
Mist on the Ground – Kildare, Ireland

Morning and evenings tend to be the best times for mist particularly in areas of grassland. On this particular morning, I was lucky to find my shooting location covered in a low lying mist over the frosty grass. I sometimes refer to dawn as “pink hour” for obvious reasons.

Challenging weather - taking photographs of mist on a river.
Mist on a river – Kildare, Ireland

This shot was taken on the same morning. The ducks on the river are shrouded in the mist that hangs over the water.

Shooting in Black and White in Misty Conditions

Challenging light and weather - taking photographs on a misty morning.
Misty morning on a canal – Bruges, Belgium

The next few photographs were taken on a misty morning in Bruges. Black and white photography works really well with moody misty scenes. In this photograph taken along the Groenerei Canal in Bruges, the stone bridge in the foreground is well defined with plenty of contrast whereas the buildings in the background seem faded by the mist in the air. This layering of stronger tones over faded tones can help create a sense of depth in the scene.

Challenging weather - taking photographs on a misty morning in Bruges.
Misty morning at Rozenhoedkaai – Bruges, Belgium

In this photograph taken along Rozenhoedkaii (Quay of the Rosary) in Bruges, the mist has made the famous belfry on the right almost vanish.

Challenging light and weather - taking photographs in misty conditions.
Misty morning on the empty streets of Bruges, Belgium

The misty early morning conditions combined with completely empty streets gives an eerie feel to this streetscape from Bruges. There is actually a church tower in the background that has been completely obscured by the mist.

Depending on where you live, misty conditions like this don’t come along all that often so it’s always exciting when it happens. It gives you the chance to photograph a familiar location in a unique way.

Taking Photographs in Back Lighting

Photographing back lit subjects can lead to very striking photographs. Getting the exposure right can be very tricky though as back lighting is definitely one of the most challenging light conditions to shoot in.

Challenging light and weather - taking photographs of trees with back lighting.
Early Morning back lit trees – Kildare, Ireland

Winter time can be a fantastic time of year to shoot interesting photos during the daytime. In winter time, the sun stays low in the sky all day long. This means it casts long shadows and creates interesting side and backlighting. The photo above was taken late on a winter morning well after the golden hour. Normally, the best light is long gone by then. As it was winter, however, the sun was still very low in the sky and caused the trees to cast long shadows across the scene.

I set up the shot with the sun positioned behind one of the trees and took three separate exposures at -2, 0 and +2 on the exposure level scale. I then blended the three shots in post-production. This photograph would have been impossible to create from a single exposure. The contrast between the brightest areas and darkest shadows was simply too great for the camera to handle. A single exposure would have had a lot of clipped shadows or blown highlights or even both together. Blending multiple exposures is a way around this problem.

Now, I’m no dendrologist, so I’m afraid my descriptions of the trees I photographed will be limited to ‘Yup, that’s definitely a tree alright’. I may be able to say if it’s ‘big tree’ but that’s about it I’m afraid.

Challenging light and weather - taking landscape photographs that are back lit.
Pathway and Trees in the morning – Kildare, Ireland

This shot was taken not too far from the last one. This time I was out with the camera on a bright autumn morning. Once again, I positioned myself with the sun behind a tree to take advantage of the back lighting. This type of light can really make a scene like this glow. It is particularly effective when combined with the warm autumnal tones I encountered that morning.

I can also confirm that these are indeed “big” trees. They also have trunks, many branches and a lot of leaves. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this dendrology thing after all! I actually studied French and History at nearby Maynooth University many years ago but never once bothered to make the twenty minute walk to the Carton Estate where these photographs were taken. I must have been far too busy drinking beer and partying studying very diligently and engaging in deep discussions about eighteenth century French literature and philosophy with my fellow scholars.

Challenging light an d weather - taking photographs of a fountain that is back lit.
Back lit fountain in Stephen’s Green – Dublin

The final example of a back lit photograph comes from St. Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin City Centre. Shooting into the light meant underexposing the background in order to expose for the water. I think this is actually quite effective and allows the golden glow of the back lit water fountain to really stand out from the dark tones of the background.

In our final tutorial on light, I will be demonstrating how different light and weather conditions can completely transform how a scene looks.

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I am a travel photographer from Dublin, Ireland. I specialise in urban, street, architecture and landscape photography. One of my favourite activities is wandering around a new and unfamiliar location with my camera at the ready. In the blog section, I share photography tutorials and tips as well as some of the stories behind my photographs and travels.

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