How to take Beautiful Landscapes on Stormy Days

Oct 27, 2020
How to take better landscape images

Winter has come to the Canadian Rockies. I love winter in the mountains! Although it's cold, the visual beauty inherent in winter is an absolute dream to photograph. Stormy days are plentiful during the winter months. Conditions filled with snow flurries, pockets of wintery light, and overcast cloud drama become the norm for the landscape photographer. I used to be filled with disappointment when I'd make the trip out into the mountains for a day of landscape photography only to be greeted by stormy skies. Now, I embrace these days, as they are, in fact, some of my favoured conditions for photographing landscape scenes during the winter months. Here are a few ideas on how you can embrace stormy days and still capture beautiful landscape images.    

1. Embrace the snow

Snow squalls are common in the Canadian Rockies, and I think they are magical. Snowy scenes can be challenging to photograph, especially when the snow is swirling down and melting on your lens and filters. Be sure to have a cloth ready to wipe away those spots of moisture before quickly releasing your shutter. The best advice I can give when photographing in the snow is to work quickly! If it's snowing heavily, a rain sleeve is useful to keep your lens and camera dry. I also carry a small super absorbant towel with me in my camera bag.  

Despite the challenges in the field when photographing in a snow squall, I think it's fun to embrace the snowflakes in post-processing. Sometimes the snow shows up in the capture and creates pretty snow bokeh, but sometimes it'll need a little enhancing with an overlay or snow brush in post. Don't be afraid to get creative in your post-processing and embrace the snow present while you were out capturing that winter scene, enhancing it when you edit your image.  

ISO 31, 20mm, f22, 1/13SS

2. Wait for pockets of light

My favourite stormy days are when the clouds are textured, and there's a mixture of high and low cloud coverage. On these days, as the clouds move, the light will reach through and illuminate certain elements within your landscape. Patience is key here, as you may need to wait a while for the light to fall across your scene and illuminate your subject. The wait will be worth it, though! The contrast between light and shadow created by pockets of light creates a dynamic and pleasing daytime landscape image.

ISO100, 20mm, f13, 90sec

3. Use a long exposure for sky intrigue 

It's worth your time and effort to try a long exposure during those overcast and stormy days. On this occasion, Moraine Lake was socked in with clouds lacking dimension and fog. A long exposure resulted in beautiful sky drama that was otherwise mostly flat. Don't be afraid to dodge and burn your sky in post-processing to enhance sky texture and dimension. It's an effective and powerful technique when faced with skies that lack textured drama. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f13, 58sec

4. Wait for night

The night sky is magical! Clear skies are not mandatory for a beautiful night image. Look for locations where you can balance the cool blue of the cloudy night alongside warmth, like this stunning little boathouse at Lake Louise. Stars do not dominate the night sky in this image, but the mixture of cool and warm colours are visually pleasing.

ISO 1250, 14mm, f2.2, 30sec

5. Capture telephoto interest 

The use of a telephoto can be considerably effective on stormy days. Compressing the drama that is inherent during stormy days draws attention to detail. Isolating stormy drama detail can be captivating. Look for telephotos scenes where light puts on a show, or look for layers of clouds with texture and detail against a darker element like a mountain or hillside filled with trees. Think about composing your scene in a way that features the drama in the stormy sky. Telephoto scenes are also a unique way to infuse variety into your typically wider shot landscape image portfolio.  

ISO 400, 82mm, f11, 1/320SS

Don't let stormy weather deter you from doing what you love! Get out there and photograph even when the weather is stormy. There's always beauty to find, and you never know what you might come across when you embrace conditions that might not be ideal!