Photo tip - Travel photography in poor weather

16th March 2010
OK, I’m back from Iceland and you’ll be delighted to know that it was largely a disaster! It was heavy cloud and rain from beginning to end and therefore no Northern Lights and no character in the skies. The plus side is that it forced me to think hard about how to come away with some decent travel photos even when the weather’s bad. I will now pass on a few of those lessons I learned.

Without good light it’s difficult to portray the inherent beauty of a place, as everything looks dull and flat. Here’s a list of photography techniques and ideas for making the most out of bad weather (and by bad I mean heavy cloud, not nice dramatic storm clouds):

1. The first tip is very simplistic, but a tripod is more important than ever in dull light – so it’s worth lugging it around on days like this. You may even want to use a remote shutter release or use the timer on your camera to avoid shake as you press the shutter button.

2. A travel photographer should always shoot a broad spectrum of subjects, but this is even more necessary in poor light. Photograph the food you eat, the plants you see, market stalls, your hotel or home-stay, church / mosque interiors, restaurants, odd signage, cultural performances – anything that captures the essence of the place but doesn’t rely so heavily on being lit by golden sunlight.

3. Instead of shooting sweeping vistas pick out individual points of interest and leave out the sky altogether. For example instead of a cityscape you should shoot a single building to show its individual character. Sure, better light will still make this a better shot, but poor light won’t ruin it in the same way as a wider view.

4. Don’t forget your lens hood in poor weather as it will help protect your lens from any rain.

5. Shapes and form become more important in poor light. Use the natural contours of what’s around you to create interesting patterns and points of view.

6. After the rain, colours can become nicely saturated and puddles create interesting reflections, so be ready to spring into action if the rain stops.

7. Speak to locals to see if you can get some inside information about good places to go that are off the beaten track.

8. Take shots of people using some fill in flash which has been underexposed by around one stop to reduce the harshness. Against a dull background the subject will really pop out, particularly if you play around with the ambient exposure in manual mode.

9. Dull overcast days are great for getting nice, silky, blurred waterfall and river shots because the low light means you can achieve longer shutter times.

10. If there’s any mist then a line of trees or fence will fade nicely into the distance creating an ethereal and spooky effect.

11. If there’s any wind then you can use it to your advantage. Trees, fields of wheat, whipped up waves and fluttering flags are just some of the subjects in windy weather.

12. It can be useful to use a medium telephoto lens to condense buildings if you’re looking down onto a cityscape. This gives you a very different viewpoint from the norm and it helps you keep the featureless sky out of the frame as much as possible.

13. Take close-ups, as some subjects can be better in ‘poor’ light. Dank moss, shiny wet cars, metallic sculptures, flowers, portraits, market stalls, colourful clothing and so on.

14. At night a grey sky can become bright orange or dark blue when lit by city lights so night photography in heavy cloud can be fruitful throughout the night (as opposed to clear night skies that are too dark, in the main).

15. Go to the dark, dingy or depressing areas of your destination. Dark alleys, slums, pollution and litter can all be interesting subjects that are actually enhanced by depressing weather.

16. Learn Photoshop to eek the most out of your photos. I have video tutorials on this website to help.

And finally if you do get frustrated, just remember that you’re travelling and that it should be enjoyed – it’s a privilege. And in my case last week it could have been my last trip, since the engine on the return plane home ‘backfired’ and spewed out flames for 10 seconds or so. After a quick 180 and an emergency landing back at Reykjavik all was well. Next up Barcelona. Olay!

Give me some grief!
By the way, I’d love to hear from you. If you have a subject, question or problem you’d like me to cover in my blog (or privately) then email me now at and I will do my best to help you out. If you’d like to comment on this article or any others then there’s a quick form at the bottom of each one where you can tell me how: stupid, insightful, delusional, inspiring, talentless or helpful I am.

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