Shooting in “Bad” Weather Results in Great Pictures, so Don’t Be Afraid of It

Shooting in “Bad” Weather Results in Great Pictures, so Don’t Be Afraid of It

Commentary Opinion

Every single photographer has rescheduled a shoot due to weather – that’s just a universal truth in this profession. But I don’t think you should reschedule when bad weather is predicted – I think you should embrace it and accept whatever comes your way to create more interesting photographs.

I know, I know – the client wants perfect blue skies, the pastel-saturated Disney colors, bright whites, blooming flowers, and healthy lawns. But you know what? Literally everyone wants that literally all the time. It’s not interesting anymore! The real world doesn’t operate that way. Instead, consider pushing ahead with shoots in the rain, shoots in the clouds, and shoots in great weather. Just shoot it all whenever you happen to be there and roll with the punches.

Sun breaking through Marine Layer at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, CA
My assistant was holding two umbrellas – one over me and one over the camera – to prevent heavy rainfall from soaking us and causing wild flare – a lot was photoshopped out here. Our shoes were completely saturated after just 10 minutes outside.

I’ve always been a proponent of mood in photographs. Of course you can get that in sun – bright and happy is one type of mood. Everyone likes it. It’s easy to shoot in the sun. It’s also easy to just reschedule to a sunny day without even trying to shoot in bad weather. Shooting in crap weather is often far more difficult in many scenarios, but when the results are good, things can be far more rewarding. It’s often high-risk, high-reward photography. And the rewards can be oh-so-freakin’-sweet.

Hardly any contrast at street level but interesting clouds add punch to the Camino Nuevo School in Los Angeles
A break in the clouds sent some brief ‘god light’ down the canyon here in Iceland – adding visual interest and pulling our eye all the way through the frame

The real world comes with all sorts of weather conditions, and we would be doing a disservice to architecture to only shoot in perfect conditions. The real world and all of its weather is messy and beautiful, and brings with it a full range of moods and emotions. From quiet and contemplative, to fun and lively, to meditiative and dark, it’s all there. The more I do this, the more I believe that not only do we need to communicate those things in our work, but that we’re actually holding ourselves back by only shooting in perfect conditions. You grow as an artist by pushing yourself to make something great when the odds are stacked against you, so I welcome the challenge of bad weather at this point.

Wrong season, mist enveloping the scene, dead trees. What’s not to love? The Sanctuary by Neri + Hu in Suzhou, China

Shooting regularly in “bad” weather also rounds out our portfolios very nicely, as it shows that we can create photographs in more than just one weather condition. A portfolio full of a variety of buildings in a variety of weather conditions shows that you have an expansive skillset and can tackle assignments in more than just one setting. You’re a swiss army knife, not a hammer. You know how to navigate tricky situations and make the best of it.

The double whammy of overcast and city shooting made this one tricky but well worth it. 56 Leonard in NYC

Shooting interiors in overcast weather can be a total joy. Rather than have to tame harsh shadows and bright sunshine, the space will be filled with beautiful soft light that washes over your subject and fills in shadows without much effort. You can get away shooting without using any light at all on most overcast days, and post production is much easier because the dynamic range of the scene stays more consistent due to your light sources turning into giant natural softboxes.

Water House, Venice, CA – sideways rain outside. Perfect soft light inside.
Residence in South Carolina – again – sideways rain outside.
Does the light get any better than this? I don’t think so. No supplemental lighting used here at all.

Also consider that you can use weather to amplify the design intent of the project. Perhaps the designer has envisioned a quiet, meditative space and a photo set in light snowfall or fog would tell that story better than one in broad daylight. By choosing to shoot in “bad” weather, we actually do a better job of communicating the intent of the design, which in turn makes for a photo that communicates the feeling of the space.

By turning the lights off and using the overcast exterior to soften the scene, this big and dense image becomes easier to understand
Clearing fog creates a calming, simple scene

While not every type of photograph is going to win in bad weather (Caribbean beach resorts for one might not be the best place to dabble in overcast photography), there are plenty of times where things actually work out better with a little bit of mystery. One of my favorite times to photograph is when bad weather is just arriving or departing – exactly when logic tells us we shouldn’t be out making photographs. But it’s those dramatic storm fronts and misty departing cloud formations that often give the most impressive results thanks to their ethereal quality of light and mild precipitation.

Fog arriving at sunset creates this ethereal backlit effect
A break in the fog allows for this epic scene to come alive with depth and mood at sunset
A clearing storm at twilight let us photograph this library in rare conditions – Santa Monica, CA

As I said, I consider photographing in bad weather carries a high risk but the payoff can be huge – legitimately unique images that stick with the viewer. While the daytime exterior shots might not sing a-la Sound of Music, the chance of getting an epic sunrise or sunset is usually much higher when you’ve got some weather. Your interiors are going to look incredible and you’ll walk away with a set of images that doesn’t look exactly the same as every other architectural photographer who didn’t have the guts to push on in the face of weather adversity. Fortune favors the brave, so take a shot on shooting in bad weather – I guarantee outcome will be worth it if you stick with it.

About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.