One Way to Take Better Photos in Bad Weather

Winter clouds over Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. A sliver of reddish-orange light glows on El Capitan.

As a landscape photographer I spend a fair amount of time outside. Over the last two years I’ve learned to plan my shoots much better. However, sometimes, no much how well you plan in advance for a trip there are some things you can’t control. One of the biggest is the weather. In this article I’d like to share an experience from a trip to Yosemite. I want to share this with you because it is a lesson of being patient and making the best landscape photos you can in less than ideal conditions.

Tunnel View – February 2018

Domo Kun, a mascot from the Japanese cable TV company, NHK, sits on a scale model of Yosemite Valley.

Whether you’ve been to Yosemite or seen pictures of the valley, you probably know Tunnel View. It’s a great spot to get a perspective of Yosemite to whet your appetite. Also, because of its fame and the fact there is a parking lot ready to greet you it can also be a busy location.

When I arrived in the late morning the crowds were out in force. As a result, I decided to hike to a similar viewpoint nearby. Shortly after I arrived, the weather started to worsen. The crowds cleared as clouds blanketed the sky, casting a deep shadow across the valley and snow flurries started falling. Although I wasn’t hopeful the clouds would clear before sunset I chose to be patient. This might also be called stubborn, depending of your definition.

As a way to kill time, I set up my camera to capture a time lapse to capture the clouds moving across the sky. While my camera clicked away the clouds started to pick up the late afternoon colors. Finally, after nearly six hours, a ray of the setting sun pierced the clouds and moved up the face of El Cap. To me, it created a neat effect when compared to the doom and gloom from the rolling clouds.

I jumped for joy as the ray moved across the valley! I felt grateful for the chance to see this moment.

The title image is from one of the time lapse frames. It wasn’t the photograph I had planned to capture, but I like it nonetheless. Every time I see this capture I’m reminded of how the sunset made it worth shivering in the cold for a few hours.

Lesson Learned

Don’t head in right away

You’ll visit places where all the planning was complete, only to have clouds obscure the great light you wanted. Other times, you’ll set up based on great interesting clouds only to have them clear out before sunset leaving a clear blue sky. While both of these situations are frustrating they can teach you a great lesson about photography.

Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Get creative. Be patient. And, if all else fails, just enjoy being outside in a beautiful place. Or, you know, run for the hills if it is that kind of day.


Here are a few things you can get up to while your camera clicks away for hours.

Sketch what you see

Sketching Yosemite Valley from a vantage point near Tunnel View. Small, lined notepad with a sketch from the famous viewpoint.

Take BTS photos of the gear

Photographer in red Patagonia jacket and mask taking a selfie while camera on tripod captures Yosemite Valley in the background.


Just enjoy the view


Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please drop me a comment with any questions you might have. Until next time. See you on the trail.

Reader Comments

  1. Madeleine Gallagher

    Matt, I read a lot about light painting but never about how to do it. You are so good at explaining things in easy to understand language…could you explain? Thank you!

  2. Madeleine N Gallagher

    Thanks, Matt! Just want the basics of how to light paint for night photography. How long do you shine your light on a foreground object while shooting the Milky Way…and other details of light painting. Just simple stuff…flashlight, headlamp, phone light, etc as the light source. Thank you!

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