Predicting Weather For Outdoor Location Photography


I just returned from a location shoot in the Cascade Mountains, east of Seattle today. The weather had us guessing at several points during the day, but for the most part it went according to plan. Plan? That’s right, as someone who is often hired to shoot outdoors, I’ve been forced to become quite the weatherman, doing my best to anticipate and plan for Mother Nature’s ways. She always plays hard to get, but it occurred that it would be good to share how–over the past 13 years–I’ve managed to keep an eye on the weather with some reasonable success.

The nice thing about my “science” is that it’s available to anyone. My primary three resources are online and I tend gather info from all of them and compare/contrast the info to have as clear a picture as possible. In order of preference:

1. http://www.wunderground.com This is a free site that gives weather forecast by city/state or by zip code. It also provides, lower on the page, handy info like sunrise, sunset times, wind, moon status and local area weather blogs worth reading, as well as a detailed history of weather patterns.

2. http://www.noaa.org This is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or in short, government weather from the US Department of Commerce. Some deep diving in this site for specific weather OR this site in conjunction with various universities in the area about which you are curious can be really helpful (especially for mountain weather telemetry.)

3. The local news channel weather for whatever city/region. For example, here in Seattle, I often reference KOMOTV.com. A simple Google search for a city or region will reveal local weather/news sites, etc.

BONUS. If I have time or it’s important to further support my weather forecast the best group to know/speak with are definitely helicopter or airline pilots. Commercial heli pilots in particular are usually dialed into the weather quite keenly through a paid weather source, years of experience, and common sense. If you’re shoot involves helicopters or planes, or you’ve got access these resource in addition to the others, use ‘em!

Now, keep in mind that I amalgamate all of the info I can from the sources above in determining MY personal outlook for the weather at any given location. While these are typically suited for USA spots, other similar options are available for most geographic regions you’re looking for in any given country where collecting weather information is common. It just takes a bit more digging.

And last but not least, there’s never a substitute for planning ahead for all types of weather when you’re on location. Check, double check, and have contingency plans. Mother Natures loves to keep us guessing, and every time you think you “know” the weather, she has a habit of showing us that we really don’t know squat ;)

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11 Responses to Predicting Weather For Outdoor Location Photography

  1. Anonymous January 30, 2007 at 7:13 am #

    Chase, I am curious how you handle bad weather on a shoot. When you have a shoot that involves lots of planning and people, how do you work around the weather? Do you set a date and go for it, or do you wait for the right day and try to assemble everyone? How do you deal with the client if you go to the cascades to shoot and you end up in a white out?
    Thanks! Lovin the Blog!

  2. bcwhite January 30, 2007 at 10:04 am #

    What kind of weather do you look for when you go out? Bright clear skies are nice (especially for us people), but I’ve found I can often get better images when doing bad weather photography because of the diffuse light makes for less harsh shadows and a dynamic range more suited for a camera sensor.

  3. Carson Blume January 30, 2007 at 2:58 pm #

    HAIL WIND and SNOW for me on the back of a motorcycle for me the past few days with discovery channel cycling team!

  4. Chase Jarvis January 30, 2007 at 9:33 pm #

    anonymous: dealing with bad weather is tough. If we’re doing an outdoor shoot that demands there be good weather, we try hard to shoot in a location that historically performs. Even then, we alway have contingency plans and oftne have pre-determined weather days built into the contract (where everyone on set is paid to wait around for the storm to pass, etc.

    Also, for things that are really weather contingent, and depending on crew size (works better with smaller crews) we book them into weather “windows” and hope to get two good days out of four, etc. Then, if we nail it after two days, we’re done. If we need to take four days, we’ve built that into the plan.

  5. Chase Jarvis January 30, 2007 at 9:38 pm #

    bcwhite: I’m always looking for “interesting” weather, but my clients often like a perfect sunny day spotted with a few white puffy clouds ;) Actually, I like to embrace a broad range of weather types if the project allows, especially if it’s a mulit day project. If it always blue skies and sunny, the viewer has a harder time believing that you actually shot for numerous days. Embrace (when you can) what mother nature pitches your way!

    Regarding diffused light: great point. Most definitely a bright overcast day gives you great DR — details in the shadows without blowing your highlights (but I wouldn’t call that “bad” weather necessarily)

  6. Chase Jarvis January 30, 2007 at 9:39 pm #

    Carson: sounds like fun!!! Stay dry and pull your camera apart every night so it drys out. (otherwise if the sun hits it tomorrow morning and there’s any lingereing moisture in/around your filters, etc, you’ll get nasty fog!)

    Good luck!

  7. Carson Blume January 31, 2007 at 8:09 am #

    yeah…..I found that out on the second day, make your post faster damit! (joke)

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