Location Scouting for Photo & Video: Part 2 – Predicting The Weather

Weather

[Scott here...and welcome to the second post in a series of three discussing the steps we take in selecting and scouting locations for our most important photo and video shoots.  In the first post in this series we discussed the process of narrowing in on your locations with computers...."virtual scouting".  Now we'll tackle something a bit less concrete...that great mystery in the sky...no I'm not talking about God, I'm talking about the WEATHER.]

The weather can be the photographer’s best friend or worst enemy.  I can think back on days of perfect powder and blue skies when we nailed a heli-skiing weather window while shooting for REI. I can also think back on being cooped up in a hotel in Chile for weeks on end, waiting for unceasing rain and wind that made outdoor photography a complete impossibility.  

Suffice to say, we’ve learned through many years of shooting outside that there is no way to predict or control the weather, but that there ARE a lot of ways to stack the deck in your favor.  You might even say that we’ve developed a set of rules, and if we follow these rules closely enough, we can usually keep our boots clean and our rain jackets in the car. Today, I’d like to share these secret rules with you. Click ‘continue reading below’…

Rule #1 – Pay attention to the climate of your prospective location. “Climate is the average weather conditions at a particular place over a long period of time. Climate is the long-term predictable state of the atmosphere. It is affected by physical features such as mountains, rivers, positioning of the globe, plateaus, deserts, depressions and much more.” (Definition from the Global Energy Initiative Glossary).  Even in reasonably consistent climates like Hawaii the difference between the rainy season and the dry season can have a massive impact on not only the day to day weather but also the vegetation, clarity of the water, air quality, etc.  Also pay special attention to the second part of the definition regarding the effect of physical features.  We have a mountain range running down the center of Washington state that creates rain forests on one side and desert on the other.  Know and understand these micro-climates. You can use this knowledge to your great advantage.

As it is to everyone’s benefit to understand the climate in order to predict the weather, there is a wealth of information on climate available online.  Here in the USA, the best source I’ve found is the National Climate and Data Center.

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climateresearch.html – This is a huge source for long term climate information.  If you want to find out the average temperature or precipitation for April 20 in Palm Springs over the last hundred years, this is your place.  The data is primarily focused on the US, but there is good global information as well.  If you live outside the USA, your home country likely has a similar service.

Rule #2 – Keep current on your most important locations. As a location research specialist and a weather nerd I get enjoyment from keeping tabs on the weather even when we’re not about to produce a location shoot.  I have an understanding of what’s been happening this year in the mountains of the American west, the cities of the east coast, even the summer weather in New Zealand.  By casually watching your “hot zones” throughout the year [see my earlier post here on our favorite places to produce location shoots throughout the world...], you’ll be ready with recommendations as soon as your client comes to you with a certain need.

Rule #3 – Use multiple sources to help with your accuracy. Here in Western Washington we live in a famously difficult forecast area.  To the west we have the great Pacific Ocean bringing constantly changing weather.  To the north we have powerful systems from Alaska, to the South we get tropical blasts from the middle latitudes, to the east a rugged mountain range serves to mix up all of these influences into a dynamic gumbo of weather.  On the same day you’ll read forecasts from 6 different sources that are often quite different, and hilariously all sorta correct in their own way.  For this reason I’ve grown accustomed to monitoring a broad range of forecasts and finding good accuracy by averaging the results.  If four of the six forecasts say that there will be 4-6 inches of snow, the odds are probably pretty good.  You can probably throw out the one forecast calling for 18 inches.  Here are a few of our favorite sources that will also serve YOU well:

http://www.accuweather.com – This site has been renamed “optimisticweather.com” around here because it seems to always look on the bright side of life.  I don’t use it because it’s accurate (it’s not very accurate).  I use it because their forecasters are brave enough to forecast 15 days out.  It’s not uncommon for the beginning of a shoot to fall into this two-week timeframe, so accuweather can give some idea of the weather we might actually see when we arrive on location.

http://www.nws.gov – This is the home page of the National Weather service.  My favorite feature is the map which you can use to get pinpoint forecasts for any location in the US.  This tends to be extremely accurate, but only gives you a few days worth of forecasts.  If you’re based in the US you’ll find almost no end to the amount of weather data on this site; from marine to aviation, deserts to mountains, if there’s weather there, this site has information about it.

http://www.wunderground.com – I’ve found this to be the most consistently accurate commercial weather site and the coverage is worldwide.

http://www.nwac.us – This is the best source for mountain weather in the winter here in the northwest.  The avalanche center maintains a vast number of weather stations providing hourly data from the field.  NWAC is limited to the mountains of Washington and Northern Oregon, but many mountainous regions have similar avalanche centers providing fantastic data and forecasts.

Ok, those are the three primary “rules”…but let’s not forget the always-important final rule when it comes to weather….

Rule #4 – Be patient, flexible, and light on your feet. You never know what you’re gonna get. If you do get thrown a curve ball, be prepared to hit that ball anyway. In many cases, dramatic weather adds a beautiful, powerful, and unexpected layer of drama to your pictures or video. We’ve had some of our best results from weather that we didn’t predict, so don’t be afraid to shoot your project anyway if you can afford to take the chance.

In the next installment we’ll take a look at scouting once we’re on the ground.  Think touristing with zero free time, a few really cool gadgets and tools that you’ll love, a bunch of meetings, and a travel hangover.  See you again soon!

You may be interested in:

51 Responses to Location Scouting for Photo & Video: Part 2 – Predicting The Weather

  1. mattbeaty February 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Loving this series, Scott! Looking forward to #3.

  2. oldsweng February 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Another option is to find a someone in the area to provide a customized weather forecast. They can provide very detailed forecasts for a particular area at very low cost. I have used one to predict the type of clouds and cloud coverage for an area as I much prefer the cumulus clouds over 15-30% of the sky to cirrus clouds over 50% of the sky.

  3. DanielKphoto February 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Another interesting post :) Waiting for the next one :D

  4. Douglas February 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Another really good weather site is http://www.snow-forecast.com. Gives accurate weather for most any ski resorts in the world and surrounding ares.

  5. Csaba February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Great idea and initiative. Keep it up guys. Looking forward for the next part

  6. Jaimie Dee - Atlanta Wedding Photographer February 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Great article! :) Thanks for posting!

  7. Stefan February 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Liking the series…roll on the next one!

  8. Discount Digital Photographics Pty Limited February 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    This is a very nice picture is this took from the plane?
    I love this article as this is a informative as well
    Thanks for the post such a good article.

    • Scott Rinckenberger February 10, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      This image was taken from a cliff on the shore of Oahu in Hawaii. There are the most beautiful cloud formations in Hawaii.

  9. Gerhard February 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi Scott
    For New Zealand forecast check http://www.metvuw.com/
    Cheer,s
    G

  10. Matt Timmons February 10, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    Hey Scott,
    Weather delays brings up a good question that I asked on Chase’s live Q&A yesterday but it didn’t get picked-

    When the weather delays a shoot for a day or several days, does Chase charge the client for those days without production at the full rate or is there some way you work it out to keep them happy but still keep your business from taking any of the loss? I’m always wondering how two businesses goes about this. Cheers, -M

    • Maciej Krüger February 10, 2011 at 2:11 am #

      Thanks Scott! I’m looking forward to the next post!

    • Scott Rinckenberger February 11, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      Matt,

      There are many variables in these kinds of situations so we rely on good client communication to deal with them on a case by case basis. Our contractual language states something along the lines of “in the case of weather, revolution or acts of god, both parties will work in good faith to find an equitable solution.” All of the times we have been weathered out, we’ve been able to either re-schedule before we start, work in the weather, or shoot more volume in the days after the weather breaks. Knock on wood, no irreparable issues due to weather to date.

    • Kate the Producer February 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      @Matt,
      I’ve found that clients totally understand that weather is uncontrollable and expect there to be costs associated with weather days. What they don’t want are surprise costs, so just make sure that you work out your weather plan explicitly with your client BEFORE heading on your shoot.

      Some tips:
      ~ build in a little buffer to your schedule to allow for weather or other unforeseen delays… then a little weather delay might not actually put you behind schedule.
      ~ make a weather plan so the client will know how much it will cost to delay a day. Decide ahead of time if you will reduce the cost of your time by a percentage. If you’re hiring stylists, models, etc, they will have a ‘weather day rate’ that you can include.
      ~ work with the creative team to find a solution that will work with weather that is not ideal.
      ~ go ahead and shoot if breaks in weather look possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some work done and might be able to make up the rest over the remainder of the shoot.

  11. Kelly Minniti February 10, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    Yet another great post from Scott, who seems to be the team geographer. I’m really psyched by this post and the other. Keep it up! Chase, I want to let you know that I love your posts too. You seem to be a great team!

  12. Weston Neuschafer February 10, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I have been lucky that the weather has been my friend every time I go out on shoots. But I never know when it might change. Thank you for the links.

  13. Armand Dijcks February 10, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Did you ever have a situation where bad weather lasted so long that you just ran out of time without being able to shoot anything? What would you do in that case? I guess you can’t just charge the client for going back to the same location a second time, apart from the fact that you might miss the delivery date…

    • Scott Rinckenberger February 11, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      Armand,

      All of the times we have been weathered out, we’ve been able to either re-schedule before we start, work in the weather, or shoot more volume in the days after the weather breaks. Knock on wood, no irreparable issues due to weather to date. We have had to move the shoot to a different location mid shoot, and have had to extend shoots, but in both instances it was clear that there was no one at fault and the financial burden was fairly spread out across the parties involved.

  14. a girl and a camera photography February 10, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for sharing….love reading it!

  15. Tyler Larson February 10, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    This is really great, something I will seriously use for our next outdoor shoot. I live in Northern Utah and the weather is about as unpredictable as it gets. yesterday we were shooting in the mountains banking on sunny skies as a few of our weather forecasters had been predicting for a week, but at noon, overcast, wind and snow hit. It would have ruined the day had both of our brand new snow machines not broken down first;)

  16. Photographer Aberdeen February 12, 2011 at 5:21 am #

    Great advice thanks, look forward to reading the next part of this series

  17. Luis Enrique February 15, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    THank you! Chase….

  18. Brence February 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    What contingencies do you negotiate with your clients to cover backup shoot days and delays caused by the weather? Do you have difficulty enforcing these contingencies where additional costs are incurred by the client?

    • Scott Rinckenberger February 17, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Brence,

      Check out the responses in the above comments from me and ‘kate the producer’ to earlier questions of a similar nature.

      Thanks!

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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