One of the most important aspects of photography is to compose your
frame properly. Weather photography is not different, although with
some phenomena finding the right composition in the field can be
quite challenging. But if you want eye-catching photos that stand
out from everyone else's photos of e.g. lightning and sunsets,
composition is essential.
De-centering the main subject of your photo often makes it more interesting
to look at, but keep it balanced. The main subject here is the large congestus cloud, and it is
balanced by the smaller cloud to the left.
Learning to compose photographs
You can learn to compose photos properly by looking at photos from
other people, scrutinizing their work. As composition is somewhat
subjective, there are no clear rules as to what photo is properly
composed and which is not. Therefore, bear with me if you don't
agree fully with what I'm writing below - these are just guidelines.
Most importantly, a thing to remember when you take a
picture is that the viewfinder of any camera (SLR cameras in
particular) shows less than the full frame. Usually the viewfinder
shows only 90% to 95% of the frame. It is important to keep this in
mind when composing the frame, especially when you are trying to
keep objects out of your frame.
Composing the frame - a few guidelines
On weather photos the foreground scale should match the
background scale. What I mean is that when you take a picture of
a cloud near the horizon, the foreground should preferably also be
far away. You do not want a close tree-top as foreground, for example,
unless for some reason you need it (e.g. to block the sun when
photographing halos and such). Having something very close in the
foreground usually distracts from the main subject of your picture,
which is the cloud. As another example, having a small thunderstorm
cloud next to a big tree doesn't usually look right.
You don't always have to include a foreground. If you don't have a foreground,
the photo can look more artistic.
Avoid flat horizons if possible. Unless you are at sea, you can
usually position yourself such that the foreground is not too boring,
yet not too distracting. Hills and distant mountains work great, as
do trees in the distance.
Keep the horizon low, from about 1/5 to 1/4 of the height of the frame,
since it usually has nothing to do with the main subject of your photo (something
in the sky). Do not have the horizon too low, and certainly not too high.
Keep the horizon level. Photos with tilted horizons always look
very bad, unless it is obvious that the horizon is naturally inclined
such as a mountain ridge.
There is no real need to have detail in the foreground. The less
detail there is in the foreground, the more the sky attracts
attention, which is desireable. In fact, using the foreground
merely as a silhouette works best in most cases.
Balance your photo. If the sky is not completely empty next to the
phenomenon (say a cloud) that you want to photograph, you may want
to de-center the cloud somewhat. Again, there's no general rule for
this. It all depends on how the sky looks. Sometimes you will want
to center the main subject, at other times not. If you de-center the
subject in the frame, the foreground should compensate for it;
this is called balancing the frame. A cloud to the left of the frame
should be balanced by something else, maybe another cloud to the
right, a distant tree in the foreground, or a sloping hill.
If the foreground is bad, try to use it as a black silhouette.
The many tree tops and roofs in this picture didn't distract from the stormy sky.
Is a foreground necessary anyway? Sometimes, you will want to
abandon the foreground altogether, and zoom in to something in the
sky. Many times when using a telephoto lens to photograph something
high in the sky, you don't even have a choice, unless there is some
tall object that you can walk near to. In these cases
it may be best not to have any foreground at all, to focus on the main
subject. It is then very important to balance the photo well, since
there is no foreground to help with this.
As always, there's exceptions to the 'rules'. Photos with unusual
composition can turn out to be really interesting.
Any unusual composition will draw attention, and if you do it right,
it can look really good. The possibilities are endless!
Especially with digital photography, where a picture costs virtually
nothing, it is good practice to take several photos of some subject
rather than just one or two, every picture having slightly different
exposure settings and/or composition. (It is not uncommon for me to shoot
a whole roll of film on a sunset and only find 2 or 3 photos that are
Proper composition also depends on depth of field and perspective, which
depends on the focal length of the lens on your camera. Anyone who owns a
super-wide angle lens such as a 14mm lens (on 35mm film camera) can relate
to this. With such lenses, even objects that are just about a meter (a
few feet) away may look as distant as clouds in the background.
It is good to be somewhat critical of your own work, rather than being
satisfied too quickly. But you should never be discouraged. This way you
always keep improving your skills and end up with better pictures and