• bible sitting next to a teapot

    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

Gray and Cloudy? Not to Fear!

by Zach Schierl
Originally posted as a blog entry on
November 27, 2011

It's been a while since we've talked about photography tips here on "The Photographer's Eye," so today we are going to talk about how to take great pictures in even the cloudiest, coldest, dreariest weather conditions. Why? Because today just happened to be one of those days here at Whitman Mission. This is the scene that greeted me when I arrived today (November 19, 2011):

 
gray cloudy day
A gray and cloudy (and cold!) day at Whitman Mission nevertheless makes for interesting photo opportunities
NPS - Zach Schierl
 
Reflection of trees in pond

Calm winds allowed me to capture the crystal clear reflection of this tree in the Whitman Millpond. Converting to black and white emphasizes the intricate form of the arching branches.

NPS - Zach Schierl

While days like this might make you tempted to just leave your camera in the bag, instead look at them as a great way to challenge your photography skills. Anyone can walk up to Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon on a nice sunny day and take a good picture; not everyone can do the same on a grey, overcast day. Some of the most spectacular and most creative photos I've ever seen were taken on days just like this. As a photographer you just have to think a little bit differently in order to get good results.

Black and white (B&W) photography can be a very effective technique on dreary days. If you don't have direct sunlight illuminating your subject, colors become less striking and more muted. So why not get rid of them altogether? Converting a photograph to black and white makes your eye focus on shapes, patterns, and the contrast between light and dark elements. The hardest part of B&W photography is visualizing how the shot will look without the color seen in your viewfinder. Something that often helps me with this is trying to imagine how the scene would look in a newspaper. We did an entire blog entry on B&W photography last year, so for more tips, go to http://www.nps.gov/whmi/photosmultimedia/black-and-white.htm

 
A light colored leaf stands out against a dark background

A dead silver poplar leaf didn't quite make it all the way to ground before it was caught by the still green leaves of this oak tree.

NPS - Zach Schierl

Another option that I often turn to on overcast days is macro, or close-up, photography. While landscapes can often look rather drab without sunlight, zooming in on your surroundings and focusing on the little things, like plants, water droplets, or patterns in tree trunks, is much less dependent on weather conditions. In addition, using a brief burst of flash when up-close to your subject can eliminate shadows and ensure that your entire photograph is illuminated evenly.

If all else fails, a little post-processing can often dramatically improve a picture taken in less than ideal lighting conditions. While I'm not a fan of dramatically altering pictures using Photoshop or other such programs, a lot of times all a picture needs is a slight contrast increase or brightness adjustment to really make it pop, so don't be afraid to do a little editing once you return indoors from a photo shoot in the grey and gloom. More complex editing can also produce interesting effects like this picture of hawthorn berries against the gray eastern Washington sky.

 
red hawthorn berries are the only colored elements in this black and white photo
These hawthorn berries were the brightest spots of color I could find in the park this afternoon. I cut out the berries and converted the rest of the picture to B&W but let the intense red color of the berries shine through to contrast with the drab sky.
NPS - Zach Schierl
 

The most important thing to remember is that the composition of your photo is going to become very important when snapping shots. Under such conditions you are unlikely to get anything worth keeping by simply walking outside and pressing a button. Don't be afraid to experiment with unusual and creative angles. Ultimately, photographs taken in dreary weather don't have to be dreary themselves. A little extra creativity and thought can give you good pictures in even the most challenging conditions.

 


Want to learn more about exploring Whitman Mission with your camera? Click here for more blog entries from the Photographer's Eye.

Did You Know?

painting of mission with wagon in front

The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.