I first heard this phrase from Joe McNally: “Bad weather makes good photographs,” and I continue to find that it’s true.

My dad, also a photographer, was visiting from out of town the other day, and I was planning to take him on a hike to a waterfall I’d been dreaming of photographing with Autumn colors. It’s only about a mile and a half up to Metlako Falls and it would have been a fun few hours’ hike and shoot. However, it had been raining all day in the city, and by the time our family activities were over it was getting late in the afternoon. But, we decided to go for it anyway.

A good way to approach making pictures in weather is to change your mind about weather. We grow up being told that rain and snow are ‘bad weather’, but in reality, they’re simply weather. They’re bad for playing baseball, but they’re ok for most other things. I wake up on rainy days and smile at the prospect of seeing what the day will bring just as I do on sunny days.

I live in Oregon, so rain isn’t quite enough to make me not want to shoot, you just have to be ready for it; if we always stayed in on rainy days, we wouldn’t get out much. My dad and I wore rain coats, put the rain cover on the backpack, and donned hats to keep it out of our eyes. Lens hoods help keep drops off the front of the lens, and cotton handkerchiefs take care of the rest. The cameras are weather sealed, which should keep them safe in a drizzle. There’s really no such thing as bad weather, but there is the wrong clothing for the weather you’re in.

On the way to the trailhead, I kept considering stopping at a closer waterfall without a hike. It’d be pretty, but my experience is that in bad weather you’re more likely to tough it out and shoot if you already paid a price to get there. That is, shooting waterfalls on the side of the road in the rain is a lot less fun than shooting waterfalls up a mountain in the rain.

As we started hiking, I was aware that the sun was going down, but the rain had stopped and we had blue sky overhead. We hiked for some time and it was taking longer than expected to get to the falls. Just as we were about to turn around because it was getting dark, we arrived at the falls and saw a most wonderful sight, something I’ve not experienced before. There was a small cloud hovering right above the falls, and it was almost as if the falls were pouring out of it. Combined with the soft evening light and the stillness around us, it was incredible. After enjoying the site for ourselves for a moment, we quickly examined the areas we could shoot from and started setting up our cameras. Not two minutes after our arrival, however, another cloud crept up the canyon and joined the little cloud above the falls. Our incredible photo was gone! What’s more, it started raining right then, too.

levi_sim-1 Metlako Falls
Metlako Falls, Oregon. Lumix G85, 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens @30mm, f/5.6, 2.5 seconds, ISO 800.

Well, as I said above, you’re more likely to stay and shoot if you’re invested. So we stayed and made a few pictures before the rain grew thicker and the light grew dimmer. We packed up and high-tailed it down the mountain. In the end, we had a good adventure, an incredible sight, a few good frames, and a fun story to share.

Next time it’s raining on your parade, remember, “Bad weather makes good photographs,” and it makes for pretty good stories, too.