Weather Photography is Art and Science

red-tinted clouds
Red-tinted high clouds, reflected on calm lake

If you’ve seen the weather photos we put on TV then you know half the trick of a good picture is simply watching the sky and being at the right place at the right time but here’s the other half which involves art and basic setup.

altocumulus ripples
Wind shear creates even ripples in layer of altocumulus clouds.

Charge up. If you haven’t used your camera in a while you might pick it up to catch that fleeting waterspout only to be disappointed to find that the batteries are dead. Make sure the batteries have a good charge.

Clean up. Look at the lens and see if it is smudged with grease or specks. If smudged wipe it gently with a clean, dry, lint-free cloth. If dusty then blow clean compressed air over it first.

You need light. If your scene is dark then you’ll need to use a tripod or set the camera on something steady. Nighttime shooting and lightning photography definitely require a tripod. In these cases you should use the timer setting to trigger the shutter so that you don’t shake the camera when pressing the shutter button.

Shooting through windows when it is dark is difficult because the camera flash causes a bright glare on the glass. Even without the flash you almost always end up with unintended reflections.

A steady hand is needed for zooming in on distant objects. The more you zoom, the more likely your shot will be blurred. If it is halfway dark or dark then you’ll benefit from a tripod. Using a flash at night for something more than 25 feet away from you doesn’t help unless you are using a tripod and a very slow shutter speed.

mammatus clouds
Clouds bubble downward as mammatus, showing turbulence.

Framing is the key to a good shot once everything else is set. You don’t want things in view that distract from the actual image. As you compose your shot look at the corners and the sides and the top and bottom of the viewfinder to make sure that what you see is what you want. Look through the images in our gallery to see what grabs your eye as great pictures and learn from those. Whenever possible, shoot in the sideways (landscape) mode since that’s the way we see things, and that’s the way we show things on TV!

Read the owners manual of your camera for good tips on how to get the best possible picture from your camera. Many cameras default to auto focus and if you are shooting something far away like a landscape or cloud then the camera will often have a hard time finding something to focus on. In these cases you should use the manual or scene settings to force it to focus on “infinity” or distant objects.

Never risk your life to take a picture! This sounds like common sense but too often people stand in dangerous spots or lean over railings. When you are concentrating on what’s in front of your camera you sometimes miss hazards around you or approaching you. One of the worst things people do is take a picture while driving a vehicle. Have a passenger take the shot or pull out of traffic safely to park and take the picture. We avoid showing pictures taken by the front seat passenger of a car because to other people it may look like the driver took it, and we don’t want to send that message. Realize that lightning and storm photography hold high danger.

lunar halo
Ice crystals of cirrus clouds refract light to form colorful ring around moon.

When you post a picture for us to use, you must be the photographer or have the photographer’s permission to submit the photo. We cannot use photos that are copyrighted by other people or companies so don’t send those. Beware photos sent to you of “amazing” or “incredible” weather photos that turn out to be hoaxes. We definitely can’t use those.

Just send the best one or two weather photos you shot if they are different from each other.

In your picture description let us know the location, date, and time if that is relevant, along with the name of the photographer.

We always try to put the best photos on the TV but since we get dozens of pictures from weather events that everyone experiences we can’t always show each one. Most, but not all of them end up on Facebook, or in our Photo Gallery. The best photos show and celebrate the variety of weather without distraction so we avoid photos that are advertisements or tributes to people, or those with political or social agendas.

crepuscular rays
Sunlight fans out between parts of cumulus clouds as crepuscular rays.

Nature photography tips from the National Park Service
Lightning photography tips from researcher Chuck Doswell
Finding and photographing rainbows
Capturing a good sunset or sunrise
The causes behind sky colors

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