Seize the moment
Don’t delay when the right weather conditions are on the horizon
While anyone can whip out their camera or phone on a clear day, only a photographer knows the difference that a change in the weather can bring to pictures. Whether it’s a brooding sky that’s on the edge of rain, wind that’s strong enough to push tears from your eyes or some lingering fog and mist, weather has the potential to add interest and atmosphere to your landscapes.
Take this shot of a colourful sunrise over a snowcaked Belstone Tor on Dartmoor, in Devon. Adam Burton had been revisiting this composition for eight years, photographing the tor throughout the seasons. But although he’d captured the shot many times in winter, he had always hoped to photograph it blanketed in snow. “The trouble is, snow is all too fickle in Southern England,” explains Adam, “and when it does arrive, it’s often difficult to reach locations due to snow-covered roads.
“After some February snowfall in 2015 I was fortunate to reach Belstone on Dartmoor without any problem, and I eagerly climbed up to reach this viewpoint. With a sense of anticipation I set up and waited for some rich morning sunlight to illuminate
the rocks, but I was to be disappointed. Although the scenery was covered with snow, the sky was grey and the anticipated light show failed to materialise. I did photograph the view, but it didn’t excite me and after returning home I decided not to process the picture.
“Roll forward nearly 12 months and the forecast for snow saw me again heading down the icy country lanes from my home with this view firmly in mind. As I reached the summit I was already extending the legs of my tripod in preparation and I quickly set up my camera and waited; it was then that I noticed the wind. At nearly 500 metres above sea level, Dartmoor’s moorland can feel tremendously exposed at any time of year, but especially so in the winter. The strong wind buffeted the camera and left me feeling chilled to the bone. As I waited for the first rays of morning sunlight to lick the tor, it began to snow, so I quickly grabbed a cover and wrapped it around my Nikon in the hope that the snow shower would pass. Fortunately it did just that, and within minutes I was ready to shoot, after a quick wipe down of the lens to remove snow blotches.
“It was at this point that the sun first appeared, faintly illuminating the tor, but the picture still wasn’t right. A huge pink cloud – the one that had carried the snowfall minutes ago – was passing into the frame, but it only occupied the left half of the picture, leaving a big patch of blue in the sky to the right. A common mistake among landscape photographers is to get the main composition nailed down, but not pay attention to the clouds. Regardless of having the key ingredients of a pink sky, a snowy foreground and some morning sunshine, without those clouds feeling balanced the picture would not be complete. So I waited while the huge pink cloud rolled into the scene, resisting the urge to shoot until it was in the optimum position.”
Even with careful planning and the right weather conditions, an envisaged scene may not materialise. Adam Burton managed to nail this shot a full year after he first attempted it
Don’t rely on weather conditions alone to carry a shot. Invariably, the first angle you find to shoot from isn’t the best, so work free of a tripod until you find an angle that shows all the elements of the scene at their best