Bad weather can make for great photos. Especially in the summer when in many parts of the USA, you get dramatic thunderstorms and big cloud formations.

If you want to make great weather shots, remember that the weather, NOT the foreground is your subject. Include no more than 25% of the foreground in your frame, less if possible. (One major exception to this is a photo that includes water. In this case, you may want more foreground than background.)

And don’t even think of using autofocus for these types of shots. Switch to manual focus, set it on infinity and forget about it. Hopefully that tornado you’re trying to capture on film is far enough away that you don’t need to think about anything but infinity focus.

Your lens choice should be somewhere in the short to medium telephoto range. Fisheye lenses can be fun if you have a wild sky. And of course, use a tripod. There’s no chance of getting a solid shot otherwise.

If you want to get creative, use a small aperture and low shutter speed to make motion blurs. Otherwise, think high ISO settings since you probably won’t have tons of light.

This post sponsored by Lensbabies.

Join the conversation! 20 Comments

  1. Great tips as always….

    As a meteorologist and storm chaser, I might add one more. When photographing storms, it can be very easy to lose a sense of scale in your images. Whenever possible, I like to make sure there is some recognizable object (a building, telephone poles, whatever’s available) on the human scale to really let the scope of a 60,000′ storm top read in the image.

    Love the shows…

    >>Mike

  2. Great tips as always….

    As a meteorologist and storm chaser, I might add one more. When photographing storms, it can be very easy to lose a sense of scale in your images. Whenever possible, I like to make sure there is some recognizable object (a building, telephone poles, whatever’s available) on the human scale to really let the scope of a 60,000′ storm top read in the image.

    Love the shows…

    >>Mike

  3. I think if you goto CNN.com you can find a video of a man running up to a tornado to take video or photos. Its pretty dramatic and awe inspiring.

  4. I think if you goto CNN.com you can find a video of a man running up to a tornado to take video or photos. Its pretty dramatic and awe inspiring.

  5. Nice pic!
    Maybe it’s too much trouble but perhaps in the future you can post info about the picture in the blog post. For example aperture, shutter speed, focal length, etc. of this “shooting in bad weather” post.
    Just a suggestion, maybe it’s bad since some people might concentrate a little too much on the specs but it’s still kind of nice to know.
    Anyway, great post!

  6. Nice pic!
    Maybe it’s too much trouble but perhaps in the future you can post info about the picture in the blog post. For example aperture, shutter speed, focal length, etc. of this “shooting in bad weather” post.
    Just a suggestion, maybe it’s bad since some people might concentrate a little too much on the specs but it’s still kind of nice to know.
    Anyway, great post!

  7. Thanks for the great tips Scott!

    I love the Podcasts, the TWIP website, Flickr Contest Pool…

    BTW, I’m in the 35 to 54 years old bracket.

  8. Thanks for the great tips Scott!

    I love the Podcasts, the TWIP website, Flickr Contest Pool…

    BTW, I’m in the 35 to 54 years old bracket.

  9. I would ditto what Michael said about foreground objects. I’ve chased for over 20 years, and just a photo of the sky doesn’t work very good.

    But I do have one concern, and perhaps Scott and the other TWIP guys can address this in a future podcast.

    “Switch to manual focus, set it on infinity and forget about it” doesn’t work for me, and I don’t know anyone who it does work for (that I have spoken to). It seems that digital lenses focus “past” infinity for some reason.

    With my film lenses, I sure could twist the focus ring to infinity, and have perfectly focused subjects in the distance. But with digital lenses, they are not in focus if the focus ring is turned all the way.

    This is especially noticeable for lightning, and in the case of what I do most – astronomical imaging. I turn the focus ring to the infinity stop, and stars are out of focus. I have to take a few shots and back the focus from infinity is small steps. I know this is true for the others like me who shoot the same subjects. And none of us can find a quick “fix” to get the infinity focus correct in the first image.

    Otherwise, good tips, as usual.

  10. I would ditto what Michael said about foreground objects. I’ve chased for over 20 years, and just a photo of the sky doesn’t work very good.

    But I do have one concern, and perhaps Scott and the other TWIP guys can address this in a future podcast.

    “Switch to manual focus, set it on infinity and forget about it” doesn’t work for me, and I don’t know anyone who it does work for (that I have spoken to). It seems that digital lenses focus “past” infinity for some reason.

    With my film lenses, I sure could twist the focus ring to infinity, and have perfectly focused subjects in the distance. But with digital lenses, they are not in focus if the focus ring is turned all the way.

    This is especially noticeable for lightning, and in the case of what I do most – astronomical imaging. I turn the focus ring to the infinity stop, and stars are out of focus. I have to take a few shots and back the focus from infinity is small steps. I know this is true for the others like me who shoot the same subjects. And none of us can find a quick “fix” to get the infinity focus correct in the first image.

    Otherwise, good tips, as usual.

  11. @Kevin there is a difference between infinity and “focus rings turned all the way.” Not all lenses put infinity at the end of the focus ring.

    Your depth of field, technique, stability and steadiness all impact image sharpness.

    You may have a problem with your lenses or camera…I don’t have any way to know – but I have focused thousands of pictures at infinity on digital bodies with no problem.

    You make two or more references to others having this problem. My experience is just the opposite. I’ve never heard this complaint before.

  12. @Kevin there is a difference between infinity and “focus rings turned all the way.” Not all lenses put infinity at the end of the focus ring.

    Your depth of field, technique, stability and steadiness all impact image sharpness.

    You may have a problem with your lenses or camera…I don’t have any way to know – but I have focused thousands of pictures at infinity on digital bodies with no problem.

    You make two or more references to others having this problem. My experience is just the opposite. I’ve never heard this complaint before.

  13. Kevin:

    To get “infinity” focus:

    1. Place camera in auto-focus
    2. Aim at something very very very far away yet with enough contrast to focus (distant mountain against the sky, etc)
    3. Half-depress shutter / engage AF
    4. Switch lens to manual focus / lock focus

    Any time I’m wanting to “override” AF and lock it down so, this is how I do it. Find something as far away from you as what you want focused, use AF to get the focus there (at least as close to perfect focus as my eyes can muster in a straight manual focus), then flip the switch to non-AF. Assuming AF from your lens is satisfactory for you (producing sharp pictures; and if it isn’t then return the lens!) this should work reliably.

    Note also that you may be seeing “soft” stars because your lens is “soft” at the particular aperture you are using. This is especially likely if you see a difference between stars at the “edge” of the frame and those in the center.

  14. Kevin:

    To get “infinity” focus:

    1. Place camera in auto-focus
    2. Aim at something very very very far away yet with enough contrast to focus (distant mountain against the sky, etc)
    3. Half-depress shutter / engage AF
    4. Switch lens to manual focus / lock focus

    Any time I’m wanting to “override” AF and lock it down so, this is how I do it. Find something as far away from you as what you want focused, use AF to get the focus there (at least as close to perfect focus as my eyes can muster in a straight manual focus), then flip the switch to non-AF. Assuming AF from your lens is satisfactory for you (producing sharp pictures; and if it isn’t then return the lens!) this should work reliably.

    Note also that you may be seeing “soft” stars because your lens is “soft” at the particular aperture you are using. This is especially likely if you see a difference between stars at the “edge” of the frame and those in the center.

  15. BTW: I also notice that “infinity” tends to be just a shade before the end of the focus ring on my lenses. Not sure exactly why that is, but probably has to do with the general nature of mass-produced lenses needing a little extra “wiggle room” for specific instance variations (meaning, were they designed to “stop” at infinity, then a good number of lenses would end up stopping just “before” infinity, which would be, er, infinitely more frustrating :) ).

  16. BTW: I also notice that “infinity” tends to be just a shade before the end of the focus ring on my lenses. Not sure exactly why that is, but probably has to do with the general nature of mass-produced lenses needing a little extra “wiggle room” for specific instance variations (meaning, were they designed to “stop” at infinity, then a good number of lenses would end up stopping just “before” infinity, which would be, er, infinitely more frustrating :) ).

  17. I’ve been shooting night sky images for over 25 years, and only started having this problem when shooting in digital. And i know it’s not my equipment – there are several forums in cyberspaceland that specialize in this type of photography, and everyone has this problem with their digital lenses. They don’t have answers either, except to take an image, adjust focus, taken an image, etc until you have focus.

    @Tom – I don’t have mountains, so can’t focus on them.:) And autofocus doesn’t work very well on pin-point objects like stars. It does a little, but most times it fools the AF motor. Also, my stars aren’t “soft” – they are out of focus. It usually takes 5-8 shots before I am focused.

    @Scott – it’s possible you haven’t heard about this, because it’s a specialized field. I can point you to forums where it is talked about. I have no other issues with normal photography with my equipment – it works fine. And yes, it focuses at “infinity” in “normal” situations. But like I’ve said before, I’ve done this for over 26 years, and am not the only one with these problems.

    I was just hoping someone had a quick idea.

  18. I’ve been shooting night sky images for over 25 years, and only started having this problem when shooting in digital. And i know it’s not my equipment – there are several forums in cyberspaceland that specialize in this type of photography, and everyone has this problem with their digital lenses. They don’t have answers either, except to take an image, adjust focus, taken an image, etc until you have focus.

    @Tom – I don’t have mountains, so can’t focus on them.:) And autofocus doesn’t work very well on pin-point objects like stars. It does a little, but most times it fools the AF motor. Also, my stars aren’t “soft” – they are out of focus. It usually takes 5-8 shots before I am focused.

    @Scott – it’s possible you haven’t heard about this, because it’s a specialized field. I can point you to forums where it is talked about. I have no other issues with normal photography with my equipment – it works fine. And yes, it focuses at “infinity” in “normal” situations. But like I’ve said before, I’ve done this for over 26 years, and am not the only one with these problems.

    I was just hoping someone had a quick idea.

  19. “I don’t have mountains, so can’t focus on them.:) And autofocus doesn’t work very well on pin-point objects like stars.”

    The moon, maybe?

  20. “I don’t have mountains, so can’t focus on them.:) And autofocus doesn’t work very well on pin-point objects like stars.”

    The moon, maybe?

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