Keep a Keen Photographic Eye for Overcast & Stormy Skies

Several seasons ago, I was walking (or trudging, rather) north along the sands of the picturesque Baker Beach in San Francisco.  Baker Beach is one of my favorite locations in the Bay Area. Typically, I would have loved to have taken off my shoes and socks and walked barefoot along the coast as the waters of the Pacific flowed through my toes, but that’s rarely ever been the case when I visit Baker Beach.  That’s because I’m usually carrying my photography gear, which includes my camera around my neck, my backpack on my back, and my tripod in one hand.  I’m typically on a mission for dramatic imagery. This is why I described my movement at the beach as “trudging” instead of walking. My equipment is not light in weight, but the workout is always worth the effort. (If I was doing photography full-time like this over the last five to 10 years, I imagine I would be adjacent to having the physique of one of those models or actors featured on the cover of Men’s Health magazine by now! Relishing in this thought, I supply some satire for you below).  

On this particular visit, the sky was grey, overcast, and brooding.  I could hear the steady murmur of the ocean winds swooshing over the coastline. The dark clouds raced quickly above the imposing structure of the Golden Gate Bridge several feet away in the distance, standing in defiance against the capricious conditions of the weather. The mood was dramatic and intense. I could not tell if it was going to rain, but it was definitely a possibility. I was loving every moment of this encounter.  I hadn’t anticipated these conditions when I originally planned to photograph the area, but I welcomed them with open arms, and open eyes. I couldn’t wait to get closer to the Golden Gate to capture some exciting moments to include in my portfolio of San Francisco.

Fisherman @ Baker Beach, San Francisco | Purchase
I would have missed this exciting moment if stormy skies had deterred me.

As I trudged along, a woman who was walking south eventually crossed paths with me. She regarded me with a quick smile and observed my equipment.  She said, “Oh my. Why are you out here trying to get photographs?  The weather looks to be very nasty.  You should wait until the sun comes back out and it’s pretty again.  This is not good weather for photographs!”

I answered, “Well, I’m a visitor! I return to Seattle later tonight, so I have to take what I can get.”

The lady shrugged and proceeded south towards the entrance of the beach.  I kept on heading north towards the Golden Gate, more exhilarated by the fact that I couldn’t be deterred by opinion – an opinion with which I wholeheartedly disagreed, in fact, which probably made it even easier to proceed as planned.

I also remember the day that I had the opportunity to visit and ascend the Eiffel Tower for the first time (and only time, to date). It was so rainy. I couldn’t help but think the stereotypical rainy weather from Seattle had emigrated with me to Paris that wet day in late Spring.

It was moderately heavy rainfall too. I remember that I had to protect myself with the skimpy umbrella that I kept in my backpack. My dad had bought the umbrella for me in Macau the year before. The downpour in Macau was so overbearing that the precipitation mandated that we, as tourists for a day, had to purchase cheap umbrellas while we explored. My dad had told me to keep the umbrella in my photography backpack for future excursions so I could be prepared for similar situations. The humor of it was that I never suspected that I would ever use that umbrella again and it suddenly became quite useful in Paris, and again in Kuala Lumpur a few years later.

Macau SAR, China
Macau SAR, China | Purchase

Afternoon Showers at Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) | Purchase

Anyone who has made reservations for visiting the Eiffel Tower probably knows it’s not an easy procedure (alas, my experience was cumbersome, so I will speak for myself). Also, the odds of visiting at the time of your preference are not often in your favor. I had to take what I could get as far as obtaining photos of Paris from its highest vantage point, which was at midday and not during sunset or the blue hour (which are almost always completely sold out days in advance). Nevertheless, the images I did obtain were not disappointing.

Paris with Overcast | Purchase

Miami, Florida, USA
Miami, Florida, USA | Purchase

This leads me to discuss the main point and purpose of this article.

Generally speaking, during my endeavors throughout my career in professional photography, many people often query why I would create images on dreary, cloudy, or rainy days. I receive remarks such as, “Oh, you chose a horrible day to take photographs!” or “Why not wait until the sun comes back out?” This is precisely the reason why I am open to photographing on days when the weather is less than subjectively desirable. I think there is beauty in landscapes when the skies are murky and moody. There’s nothing wrong with blue skies and sun, but imagine the mood you can capture when those two elements are confiscated by means in which you have no control!

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England | Purchase

Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago, Illinois, USA | Purchase

Why would I just give up and leave? That’s a disservice to the art of photography. (Alas, having written that last sentence, I can opine that hyperbole can be both magical and magnificent when illustrating an important point).

To be brutally honest, I find no utility or personal benefit in having to explain my point of view to anyone when it comes to my photographic objectives.  That’s not meant to be a harsh or aloof stance.  Rather, it’s just an attitude to which I adhere for the photographs I like to create and deliver. As a professional photographer of cityscapes and night-time photography, or most subject matters, I usually know what I’m trying to achieve in my mind, in advance. My visions are often preconceived. I take the conditions available and foresee what I can do with them on camera, and try to come as close as I can to letting my mind’s preconception materialize as a photographic image.

Los Angeles, California, USA
Los Angeles, California, USA | Purchase

I surmise that’s part of the beauty of what most photographers do. It seems neither prudent nor productive to argue about matters of creativity and expression as they are always – ALWAYS – relative to the individual who is creating. It’s all very subjective.

I find overcast skies and the onset of thunderstorms to be the most intriguing settings for capturing landscapes, especially cityscapes.  As I mentioned previously, there’s nothing wrong with clear skies, sunny weather, sunrises, or sunsets, but I find it somewhat peculiar that overcast skies and stormy weather are so frequently shunned or dismissed by individuals who capture photographs.  Why does the sun have to be out for the subject matter in question?  Why must there be blue sky and no clouds?  I ask these questions to generate thought and conversation, not to belittle those who believe those are the only conditions in which activities (photography or otherwise) must occur.  If a couple is getting married, the sunniest of skies on that day is the ultimate goal for all involved.  I understand the logic of that scenario.

Kuala Lumpur | Purchase

However, for this photographer from Seattle who has still shied away from photographing weddings (perhaps I’ll save that topic for a different blog article), the approach of bad weather, or being in bad weather, is not disadvantageous for capturing a landscape or cityscape. If anything else, one gets an opportunity to view an image of what a well-known place looks like when the weather appears to be combative or uncooperative. Whether there’s beauty or attraction in that is dependent on the viewer, but it should not be a deterrent to the photographer, in my view.

Seattle, Washington, USA | Purchase

Lastly, if I travel to a city for the first, second, or third time with the intent to photograph and capture its personality, and the weather is unpleasant the entire time, I would be lying — and extremely disappointed in myself — if I said I would not take any pictures because the sun refused to show. I believe you have to make use of what’s given to you, or else you’ll risk constant disappointment, and that can be expensive (and a bit foolish) if you’ve spent a small fortune to travel to a particular destination. Without a doubt, weather ultimately determines how your landscape photography will turn out, so I believe we should take advantage of what Mother Nature provides.

I would be very interested to know different points of view about this topic if readers would be interested to provide them. Please feel free to comment!

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed the photographs here, please visit my official website @ www.tia-international-photography.com for an indelible, visual experience.

2 comments

  1. I agree! The world is not filled with sunny days alone and the best images, moments, memories can come from sunny or rainy days. Weather will happen regardless of what people want so, if beauty can be found despite the change in weather, that’s just… lovely.

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