A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Home > Learn About Photography > Photographing the Elements: Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire

Featured Equipment Deals

Portrait Photography - Part II (Video Tutorial) Read More

Portrait Photography - Part II (Video Tutorial)

Learn the basics of Portrait Photography in Part II of this video tutorial, covering the essentials on timing, posing, and cropping.

Latest Equipment Articles

4 Outdoor & Adventure Photo Packs Read More

4 Outdoor & Adventure Photo Packs

Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...

Latest Learning Articles

5 Tips for Combating Red-Eye Read More

5 Tips for Combating Red-Eye

Red-eye doesn't have to ruin your photos. Learn 5 simple tricks to avoid and eliminate this undesirable photographic effect.


Photographing the Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water

by Photo.net Editorial and Joseph Meehan & Gary Eastwood, April 2013

photography by Gary Eastwood & Joseph Meehan




Earth


Landscapes

Without a doubt, quality of light is the transforming factor in landscape photography. Composition, technique, equipment, and mood are all important, but the quality of light can transform even the most humdrum location into a stunning masterpiece. Almost without exception, the best landscapes are therefore captured during the golden hours — the hour leading up to sunset, and the hour following sunrise. The best results are often obtained by shooting at an angle of 90 degrees to the low sun (with the sun to either side of the camera), which accentuates the modeling of the land, and creates rich, contrasty images by reducing the relative dynamic range of the scene. 


It’s not just the warm, saturated quality of the light that makes the golden hours such a valuable photographic aide, it’s also the acute angle at which that light strikes its subjects, casting them in stark relief against a rolling vista, accentuating their forms with long shadows that stretch out before them.

Air

Storm Clouds

A building storm is a wonder to behold. Towering clouds, dramatic light, approaching curtains of rain or hail, and complex cloud formations all offer fantastic opportunities for the intrepid photographer. Ambient light levels will likely be relatively low during a storm, or will get progressively lower as the storm builds. However, there is still likely to be a large difference in exposure levels between land and sky, so always carry a range of graduated (hard and soft) neutral density filters (up to 3 f-stops should be fine) in order to avoid blowing out the highlights in the brighter parts of the sky and clouds, and bring the foreground exposure out of the shadows. A general rule of thumb is to ensure that the sky is always at least 1 f-stop brighter than the land. So if the difference in exposure between a neutral tone in the sky (gray cloud or blue sky away from the sun) and a neutral tone on the ground (rock, a light-gray road, grass) is, say, 4 f-stops, use a 3 f-stop graduated ND filter to make the difference 1 f-stop.


Depending on the type of cloud cover, you may get high contrast areas in the clouds, where dark areas, heavy with water, contrast with bright sky trying to break through from above. These are powerful elements that can be enhanced in post-production with delicate use of the tone curve, or the clarity and contrast sliders.

Fire

Lightning

One of the main challenges for photographers when shooting lightning is its brief duration, which means that even if the photographer is lucky enough to be pointing the camera in the right direction, very few will have sufficiently fast reflexes to capture a lightning strike using the camera’s shutter button or a remote release. The result is often an empty image! Photographing storms at night—which tends to give more spectacular results anyway—using either a 30-second exposure mode or, even better, Bulb (B) mode, makes things easier. The challenge now is getting the exposure right. The trick is to underexpose ambient light levels (i.e. without lightning) over a long exposure. So, for example, typical camera settings might be ISO 100-200, a high aperture number of around f/16 to f/22, and a 30-second exposure. The exposure should be set so that if no lightning occurs, the image is slightly underexposed.




Multiple-strike capture: Leaving your shutter open for a long period of time (using Bulb or B mode, usually) increases your chances of capturing multiple lightning strikes in a single frame, which enhance each other as they amalgamate into a massive electrical storm.

Water

Rain

It is all too easy to pack up and go home at the first hint of the all-too-familiar onset of rain. But the fair-weather photographer is missing a trick by not taking advantage of the myriad opportunities provided by rain. Melancholic seaside resorts, groups of people huddled in doorways, colorful umbrellas, water droplets on leaves and windows, rainbows and rain shafts in the landscape, city reflections, saturated colors, moods and abstracts are just a small collection of the type of creative shot on offer.

Arguably the most important exposure setting in the rain is shutter speed, as it can make the biggest difference to the mood and feel of the image. For example, faster shutter speeds will freeze falling rain – very fast speeds, in the 1/1000ths of a second region, may even catch a raindrop exploding as it impacts with surfaces. Conversely, a slow shutter speed will make falling rain appear streaked or blurred, creating a feeling of motion and action, or providing a more interpretive feel to the image.

Shooting tips

  • If you’re having trouble getting your raindrops to appear in your exposures, try firing your flash— it’s somewhat unpredictable and depends a lot on the prevailing lighting conditions, but the drops can often pick up the strobelight.
  • For extended use in heavy downpours, even weatherproof camera bodies are not impervious — use a rain jacket.


This was originally published in Photographing the Elements: Capturing Nature’s Most Extreme Phenomena with Your Digital Camera.

You can buy the book here from Ilex Press (outside of the US) or here from Focal Press (in the US).


Text © 2013 Photo.net Editorial and . Photos © 2013 Gary Eastwood & Joseph Meehan.

Article created April 2013