by Cath and Ian Humes
The British have a famous preoccupation with the weather. This is probably because it is so changeable and unpredictable, but thanks to the Gulf Stream it’s mostly fairly mild. It is almost a national hobby to play “How Wrong Will The Forecast Be Today?”. We have multiple weather services that predict what is (not) going to happen over the next 24-72 hours and they never seem to agree.
The one thing you can be fairly sure of is that while on Skye it will rain somewhere on two out of three days. That’s not to say all day, maybe it’ll be just a little shower but it’s extremely likely to happen. If we want to have interesting skies and changeable light then a little dampness is a small price to pay. It could be why we have so many words for precipitation including (ordered from soaked to damp), deluge, pouring, rainstorm, torrent, raining cats and dogs, pissing down, sheets, stair-rods (big drops that look like streaks), rain, shower, drizzle, spitting and mizzle (somewhere between mist and drizzle, light enough to blow around and get to you under an umbrella) to name but a few.
However it isn’t always rain that is the issue, here are two panoramas taken in Glencoe from roughly the same location. These were taken from the western end looking east up the glen. The image shown below was taken on an April afternoon under a sunny blue sky. Perfect weather for a picnic, hardly a cloud in the sky, you can spend some time working on your tan as the photography is horrible. One side of the valley is in full sunlight the other in deep shadow, the sky is boring and the shadows are dark and harsh. I give you “When not to photograph Glencoe”.
Canon 1DS Mk3, 45mm TSE f2.8 at f8 at 1/200, ISO 100, RAW, 14:44 April 18th
But if you wait for the right conditions, on a wet and cloudy October afternoon just before the rain arrives. Cloud capped misty peaks, scattered lighting, dark and atmospheric. When the weather and landscape come together you get something you can work with.
Canon 1DS Mk3, 45mm TSE f2.8 at f8 at 1/30, ISO 100, RAW, 16:41 October 10th
With the weather in mind you try and stack the odds in your favour. I had a contract where I was asked to produce a few views near the Thames estuary at a place called the Isle of Sheppey.
All week I had been checking the Met Office website, Metcheck, BBC Weather and Accuweather (not that I am paranoid) to see if tomorrow would be the day I needed. Eventually they all said some variant of broken cloud, sunny with very low chance of rain (less than 5% and then only light showers of 0.3mm if it does). Pretty perfect weather for what I needed and had been waiting for all week.
The first location was near the highest point on the island; to get to it I just needed to follow a public footpath across a field to the opposite corner. How hard could it be? Well, the farmer had ploughed up the footpath a few weeks earlier and it had been raining for the previous three days, so this path was a rutted muddy slog.
After 45 minutes of struggling up over the ridgeline, boots clogged and heavy with clay-rich mud, legs red/grey from the knee down, I got to the location. To my left was the local historic beacon (think of a metal brazier on top of a 15 foot high square wooden post). Behind me I could hear what sounded like cannon fire, an irregular thump-thump-thump. I guessed the military/navy had a range round here and were busy doing some test firing; converting big lumps of rock to smaller lumps by the use of high explosives. Nope, I turned around and there it was, horizon to horizon, a wall of cloud, Armageddon-style. The cannon fire was thunder and I was on top of the hill with no quick way down. Going back wasn’t an option as I would be at the highest point when the cloud arrived; going on was at least grass and I could walk on it.
But wait, it gets better. It would be a nice day, they all said so, I was wearing a fleece not a waterproof, d’oh. So I headed downhill a way, sat next to the hedgerow and got ready to wait it out. Hopefully it would just be a shower; it wasn’t, it would stop soon; it didn’t. Over two hours later it finally paused long enough for me to dash up the hill and get the first 180 degree panoramic shot of the day before the next band of cloud and rain arrived. This panorama was the second location for the day, the left side of the pic is what had just rolled over and the right side is what was yet to come.
Canon 1DS Mk3, 50mm f1.4 at f8 at 1/80, ISO 100, RAW, 15:26 November 5th
What did I learn from this? Landscape photographers need to be both patient and waterproof. With this in mind a poncho doesn’t weigh much but can make bad weather a whole lot less unpleasant.
The time between pouring rain and clear air, when the sky is interesting, makes for some of the most striking images. Plain blue skies are nice but boring, the light is hard and shadows sharp. The sky is much nicer with some cloud for texture and a more diffuse scattered light, even if you do end up a little damp.
All Images Copyright © 2015 Cath and Ian Humes. All rights reserved.