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Behind the Lens: Bad weather can make for good photos

I’ve been scanning old negatives and slides lately, and I’ve noticed how weather, specifically inclement weather, is an important element in many images.

The notion that bright sun and clear blue skies are a photographer’s best palette is incorrect. Here are a few thoughts and ideas on photographing in inclement weather.

The trouble with precipitation is that you need to protect your camera. Many cameras I use are weather-sealed, but only to a point.

If it’s a heavy rain, I try to work from beneath an umbrella, or I’ll wrap my camera in a plastic bag. I cut a hole in the bottom of a bag for my lens to stick through and then tape or rubber-band the bag around the lens and access my camera through the open end of the bag.

Another option for the patient photographer is to find a position beneath awnings or other shelter and wait for subjects to come to you. Taking photos from your car is also a good option.

To make precipitation a key visual element in a photograph pay attention to:

• Your background

• The light illuminating the precipitation

• Your choice of shutter speed.

Falling snow displays better against darker backgrounds. When I see big flakes, I start searching for evergreen trees or dark buildings — any background that will accent the white of the snow. If you want to exaggerate snowflakes, you can try using slow shutter speeds.

Mount your camera on a tripod or try to hand hold and use a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second. The longer shutter speed means visible precipitation will paint a larger image across your sensor.

Rain also looks good against dark backgrounds but displays even better when backlit. Observe where your light source is coming from and try to catch an angle where your light is behind the drops of rain. Backlit raindrops magnify the illumination. Similarly, backlit puddles of water and wet pavement creates a beautiful surface for reflections or the visual evidence of rain drops.

Putting your camera and wide-angle lenses closer to the source of a reflected image will emphasize the mirrored image.

Whatever the weather may be doing, if you are meaning to include people in your photographs, observe how people are affected by the weather and how they respond. If you’ve set your stage with a good background, lighting and exposure, you need only to anticipate the action and behavior of people as they pass through.

— Chief Photographer Mike Yoder can be reached at 832-7141. Check out the best shots from Lawrence Journal-World photographers during the month of October.

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