December - snowflakes You are here: Home Techniques How to start with weather photography

Taking nice lightning pictures requires not only technique and experience but also a good dose of luck.

How to start with photographing the weather

I get asked this question occasionally, and as I grew into the hobby more or less by chance, it is not an easy one to answer. But I believe that the following will help you somewhat on your way.

First off all, I always like to compare photography with playing an instrument. You can't play music with an instrument without knowing how to use it, so you have to learn how to use the instrument. But you can't learn unless you have the motivation. The place to start is obviously to be motivated (in the long term!) to photograph and improve your skills.

This motivation usually comes from your interests, automatically. I didn't choose to photograph the weather really; I observed and studied the weather and wanted to document what I saw. Maybe your motivation comes from looking at other people's pictures. This is great, but there is a risk that you become over-enthusiastic too quickly. You might have too high expectations of your first photos or invest in expensive photo equipment before really getting into the hobby. Therefore, I suggest starting with photo equipment that you have and don't worry if your first pictures don't turn out the way you expected. There is a lot to learn.

Rainbows are always beautiful and easy to photograph, and are great to start your hobby with.


Most importantly, you don't need to own top-quality professional equipment to take decent photos of the weather. Photos of clouds and sunsets can be taken with any ordinary camera. The best is to start with an inexpensive camera, maybe a used one, or a compact digital camera. In fact, for starters, I recommend using a digital camera since you avoid the trouble of getting your slides or photos processed and printed right (there's lots that can go wrong there, making you think you took the photos incorrectly while in fact it is the photo lab that printed photos differently).

What I do recommend you to purchase right away is a tripod, if your camera has a tripod mount. It may be a simple, cheap tripod; any tripod is better than no tripod, especially with low-light photography. Your photos will be much sharper.

If you decide to use film, choose slide film. It is not very forgiving if you under- or overexpose a frame, but print film requires printing photos off the negatives and this can go wrong at the lab easily (again, making you think that exposure settings weren't right, while in fact it is just the print that was printed too dark or too light).

Learn about the various genera and varieties of clouds when you start. Building a photographic cloud atlas of everything you see can be very rewarding.

Your motivation

One good place to start is... reading a few books or websites, preferably with lots of weather pictures. Try to learn about the weather, so you get some feeling which phenomena are caused by what and how common or uncommon they are. This way, for example, you will know where and when to look for a certain phenomenon, and you will be more excited if you happen to see an uncommon phenomenon.

It also helps a lot to share your pictures in some way with others. I recommend you to make a portfolio with your pictures, that you can show to people whenever they ask you about your hobby, when you go to meetings or visit your friends. If you really want to show your work to a broader audience, build a website.

The technical part

The skills you will develop will come from experimenting and learning from yourself and others. Do not try to force this - expecting too much! No-one can learn photography in one day, or a week or month. The most important thing is that you keep your motivation at all times. When some picture doesn't come out the way you intended, or in general if you encounter anything that you don't understand, find the cause and learn from it. See this as a positive experience and don't be discouraged by things you didn't know or photos that didn't turn out the way you wanted.

Snow and ice are excellent subjects to photograph. While not easy to correctly expose, snowscapes are usually very beautiful and will give you rewarding pictures that help your motivation.

It is by no means a requirement, but some understanding of basic mathematics and physics will help immensely in understanding how cameras, lenses, filters, film and such function, and the principles of light (basic optics). Understanding the properties of light is one of the most important things in photography.

The artistic part

If you want your pictures to be eye-catching, you'll also need to develop a feeling for composition and balance in your photos. One way to learn this is to look at other people's photos and ask yourself what you like or don't like in the picture... is the horizon too flat? Too low or high? Is the subject too much centered? How would you improve if you were taking that picture?

Note that some subjects you will photograph are not really artistic, but more documentary in nature. For example, a halo display can be really difficult to get properly composed on the frame, because the arcs in the sky are usually huge, the sun may be in the frame, and the display may last very shortly, not allowing for any time to seek composition in the landscape.

In short...

Never stop learning, always keep experimenting with new techniques, and never be fully satisfied with your own photos (but always be happy with them). Be not only proud of what you accomplish but also critical of your own work, yet never be discouraged. This will keep you motivated in the long run and will improve your skills all the time.

Good luck!