Weather or Not
The Seattle area is known for receiving its fair share of rainfall. This week though, they say it could snow. Or maybe not. So what's a photographer to do?
Weather is a fact of life in the outdoors. Whether you are planning a picnic or trying to photograph the killer image of sunrise, you must deal with what nature gives you. And it's not always easy to determine your best course of action.
More than once when out on a trip I've woken up to my pre-dawn alarm clock to be greeted by the unmistakable tapping sound of raindrops falling. It's hard enough waking up that early without the added complication of rain. It's not that I'm afraid of getting wet or anything, it's the effect that such weather can have on the photographic prospects I was hoping for. Rain naturally implies overcast skies, and sunrise on an overcast morning just doesn't look the same as it does in clear weather. The sky transitions from the dark of night through progressively lighter shades of gray until morning has fully arrived. The sun never becomes visible, and of course neither does glorious gold and orange color palette craved by landscape photographers.
There's always a temptation to roll over and go back to bed, considering the morning a bust. Overcast, even light is great for certain other subjects such as macro, but I can shoot that at any time of day, and after a few days of waking up at 3:30 AM a few extra hours of sleep can seem mighty attractive. Such a decision can seem quite prudent, especially when looking for almost any excuse to go back to bed.
But what if the rain lets up? This has happened to me before. Upon waking up again at a saner hour of the morning, I have sometimes surprisingly found the birds chirping and the sun shining. The ground outside may indeed be still wet from the rain overnight, but all other indications are that my initial assessment of bad weather had been but a dream. Apparently, I had guessed wrongly and that perhaps there had been a real sunrise after all. And since sunrise comes but once a day, a morning's opportunity missed can be a real blow if other commitments mean I'll need to head back home soon.
Other times, I've belatedly found out from talking to park rangers or fellow photographers that, while it may have been raining all morning where I was camped, it was clear up on the mountain where I had intended to shoot. Sometimes, the drive up the mountain rises through the cloud bank to emerge above all the weather. My prediction of inclement weather and overcast skies from a lower elevation can turn out to be inaccurate for higher elevations. Despite appearances, if I do wake up later to find it still raining where I stayed for the night, that's no guarantee my decision to catch a bit more shuteye had been the right one. If I later hear what a great sunrise I missed further up the mountain above the cloud layer, I'll belatedly realize the error of my ways. Another way to miss an opportunity.
For these reasons, my standard guideline is to get up regardless, even if I have to force my groggy, sleep deprived self to do so. I can always catch up on my sleep quota later that afternoon. The only way to find out for sure what the morning will bring, and in particular what it will bring at the place I intend to shoot is to get up and go there at the appointed hour to find out for myself. It doesn't always work out As I hope, but if ever it does that's at least one more sunrise I can shoot as planned. And seeing that this is the whole point of my being there in the first place, I'll take what I can get.
I remember one time when I was on a group outing in Manitoba that we all hiked out to a ridge overlooking a site where elk tend to congregate in the morning. If everything had worked out as planned, it would have been wonderful. Fall elk in rut bathed in early morning light. Instead, we all stood there lined up in the drizzle hoping for conditions to improve. As it turned out, they never did. No sunrise, and no elk. Nothing but a group of cold photographers, damp to the bone.
Sometimes, the best of all possible outcomes can be mixed weather, conditions right on the cusp between rain and sun. Such conditions can't accurately be predicted, but if you find yourself lucky enough to experience them, you could be in for a unique opportunity. Such images can stand out from the pack due to the rarity of conditions being photographed. Sun and storm mixed can make for dramatic images capturing the power of mother nature.
If you do find yourself lucky enough to be in such a situation though, be careful. Getting struck by lightning would certainly ruin your morning. Mixed weather like this can be fickle and unpredictable. No photograph is worth risking injury, so be keep an eye on more than just what you are photographing.
Sometimes, getting the weather you want is just the luck of the draw. There's a saying common in many areas that, if you don't like the weather, just wait a while. But this isn't always possible when trying to coordinate the right weather with the right time of day.
Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall keep these photographers from their appointed rounds.
Or maybe not.