What settings should we use in order to capture the dark foreboding clouds of an oncoming rainstorm without losing detail? In this article, let’s learn how a professional photographer managed to obtain this shot of a storm approaching a town. (Reported by: Rika Takemoto)
EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 70mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/80 sec., EV+0.7)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
For this photo, I aimed to draw attention to the dynamic shifts and changes in the clouds and the column of rain. Furthermore, I used a horizontal composition to depict the expansive sky in order to show how localised the storm was. I also paid attention to the exposure to ensure that the details of the clouds were not lost.
The scene and my approach to it
Where the shot was taken:
An observation deck from which I was able to get a bird’s eye view of the town.
Good weather. There many clouds in the immediate area, but blue skies in the distant background.
What I wanted to show:
The dynamic conditions of the storm. This could be achieved by showing that the rain was falling within a localized area, so as to juxtapose the storm with the surrounding calm.
I decided to use the horizontal orientation to show the areas not affected by the storm. Using the rule of thirds composition, I placed the town in the bottom third of the screen, and the large, expansive sky in the top two-thirds of the screen. To emphasise the intensity of the torrential rain and the presence of the cumulonimbus clouds, I placed the cumulonimbus clouds that brought the rain, along with the column of rain, in the centre of the image, and adjusted the focus.
Lighting and exposure:
Because light from within the observation deck would be reflected against the glass, I went up close to the window glass and used a polarizing filter (also known as a PL filter) to remove any reflected glare, and to more vividly capture the greenery in the town and the blueness of the sky.
When I used the proper exposure decided by the camera, the image ended up being slightly darker and rather eerie, so I adjusted the exposure to EV+0.7 to brighten the image.
Tip 1: To obtain both a deep depth-of-field and a fast shutter speed, use f/8
For this scene, I needed an f-number with a deep depth-of-field because I wanted to emphasize the detail and three-dimensional feel of the clouds as much as possible. And because I was unable to use my tripod on the observation deck, the f-number I used would also have to allow me to shoot by hand at high shutter speeds without any camera shake. f/8 struck a balance between both requirements.
Tip 2: Point of focus that makes the main subject stand out – Clouds
I focused on my main subject – the cumulonimbus clouds that brought with them torrential rain. However, for subjects with low contrast between light and dark, it is difficult to focus on them with autofocus. Hence, I focused on the boundary of the grey clouds instead. Apart from that, a good idea is to bring the edges of the clouds into focus. This will allow you to shoot smoothly even though the lighting conditions as well as the shape of the clouds are constantly changing.
Tip 3: Avoid underexposure by using exposure compensation – EV+0.7
When using the exposure determined by the camera, the white of the clouds made the image look somewhat underexposed. Hence, I used exposure compensation to make the image brighter. However, if the image becomes too bright, the texture and three-dimensionality of the heavy clouds is lost, so for this shot I settled on EV+0.7.
Bonus tip: Photograph from a high place such as an observation deck
Localised torrential rain in cities is said to be caused by the heat island phenomenon that occurs in such areas. Exhaust heat from outdoor air-conditioning units and vehicles, as well as heat from asphalt, rises to form cumulonimbus clouds that result in abnormal rainfall patterns such as localised torrential rain. Because this phenomenon is unique to urban areas, it is rather difficult to shoot such clouds unless you have a high vantage point such as an observation deck. If reflection from the glass windows in observation decks is what worries you, using a PL filter could help to prevent it.
For tips on photographing storms outdoors, check out the article:
Landscape Photography: Shooting Storms
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A landscape photographer, Takemoto started photography as a hobby since 2004. In 2007, she became involved with managing a photo-sharing website. She studied under the natural landscape photographer Yoshiteru Takahashi, and later became a freelance photographer. Since then, she has been shooting landscapes all over Japan (occasionally overseas), covering a wide range of themes.
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