Weather Photography

by J. W. Rider
"As seen on TV!"

Sundog Closeup

What appears to be a dim image of the sun tries to peek through the clouds the evening before Hurricane Isabel shuts down Northern Virginia in September 2003. See the panel on sundogs below.

This and some of the other images on this page have been featured on the WUSA-TV Channel 9 weather segment "Your Best Shot". WUSA is a CBS affiliate in Washington, DC.

Summer Sunset(2004)

On a overcast evening, a pale sun sinks to rest behind the branches of a tree recently denuded by the voracious appetite of cicadia.

August Clouds (2000)

Clouds are always a good place to start. Don't aim for the shapeless ones. Nor for the one that will turn your image into a solid gray background. Look for edges. Highlights. Shadows. Clouds are huge, transient, white mountains. Some of nature's most intricate three-dimensional sculture. Try to find their best side.

Fall Colors (2001)

In general, anything dealing with autumn should include leaves. On the trees. Falling. On the ground. In a pile.

Patriotic Skies (2001)

Some color balancing work was needed to achieve the final effect, but even the original showed the pattern of red and blue streams made obvious in exaggeration.

Rainfall (2002, 2003)

Rain presents an interesting challenge. It's easy to see the effect of rain, but it's not so easy to see rain fall. This image required adjusting the focus until just the rain drops were in focus.

You might also want to try to catch the splashing of raindrops in a puddle. In this case, the rainfall was hurricane-borne and very heavy.

August sunset (2001)

Even when the sun is just barely visible through the cloud layer, dramatic images may be extracted. Especially so if the clouds themselves show a lot of dynamic internal structure.

"As seen on TV!"

September Sunset (2003)

After many evenings when PM thunderstorms kept rolling in, it was nice to watch the clouds mix and mingle at sunset for a change.

Ocean Beach Sunset (2002)

I'm not sure what it is that makes the sunsets on the coast so much more interesting. This one shows show the different layered stratifications refract light in different ways.

After Sunset (2002)

Right after the sun has dropped below the horizon, light can still shine onto clouds from below. However, lower clouds may be unilluminated and remain dark.

Surf (2002)

Still photography freezes the image of moving water as if it were a sculpture. The still image needs to show a dynamic imbalance in order to give a sense of the motion of the waves.

Christmas Eclipse (2000)

It was cold, but the sky was clear. A perfect opportunity to view a partial solar eclipse by projecting the image through a pinprick in a piece of paper. NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN, EVEN ECLIPSED!

Snow and Sun (2001)

Personally, when I think of snow, I think of gray and overcast skies. When the sun is clear, I still do a double-take. Shooting at the sun, through the snow-laden branches captured all the aspects together.

Snowy Creek (2001)

Another one of those double-take situations. When it snows, water should be freezing. However, running water can maintain liquid form for quite a while.

Cherry Blossoms (2001)

It may look like snow, but it's not.

Moon View (2001)

Images of the moon by itself are rather boring, unless you can get a lot of magnification. With just a zoom lens on a camera, work to frame the moon using trees, buildings, or anything else that give you a perspective context.

Iced Over (2003)

Freezing rain occurs when falling precipitation warms above the melting point, but objects on and near the ground have temperatures below freezing. When the liquid drops strike the objects, the liquid wraps around the object and then freezes solid. The result is another three-dimensional sculpture by Mother Nature. In this case, you try to capture the third dimension by using a wide aperture (narrow field of focus) so that branches too close and too far are slightly out of focus. Make sure the mid-scene is in focus.

Lightning (2002)

Nature can be very violent. Let there be no doubt that the most spectacular images involve lightning, tornados, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Also, let there be no doubt that, however thrilling, getting these images is extraordinarily dangerous. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, get the image and walk to safety. DON'T ENDANGER YOUR LIFE TO GET A WILD WEATHER/NATURE IMAGE! The Universe has many more images, and your services are still going to be required to capture a few. It's not just your life we're talking about here; the whole balance of the cosmos is at stake.

The shadowy lines in the image are caused by the wire-mesh screen through which I shot this lightning stroke. I have a couple of hundred black frames shot with nothing in them, but I did finally get this one singular image.

The Sundog Saga

Sun Circles

My personal exposure to sun circles beyond the rainbow and halo begins around noon one day in April, 1999. That's when I saw the two circles on a near-cloudless day. It was NOT a double halo; one of the circles went right through the sun. I'd never heard of parhelic circles at that time. Just a few minutes earlier, I'd have sworn that parhelic circles were an impossibility.

October 2001 Sundog

Sundogs, or "panhelions," form at the intersection of the halo and the panhelic. Even when neither circle is visible to the naked eye, the sundog may become visible because it contains light from both rings.

At the latitude of Washington, DC, the overall effect is very subtle. If it weren't for the clouds, we'd probably never see it all. Yet, despite the lack of a spectacular show, sundog spotting is satisfying on an intellectual level. Here, they only occur about once a month, and you have to know where to look for them. It's kind of nice to be able to look at something out of the ordinary and know that it makes sense.

September 2003 Sundog

The sundog is the bright spot in the right hand part of the image. Closeup of the sundog appear in the image at the top of this web page.

How not to do it

Rainbow Stitch (2000)

Many meteorological phenomena are very subtle, even those that are so common that sometimes we fail to realize just how subtly we perceive them. Without a little enhancing, the rainbow would never have been visible at all. However, try to avoid the gray background. Look for something darker.

So, why do I keep this photo around? It shows something else besides the rainbow, which would have been far too wide for me to adjust my camera to image. Instead, this is a stitch of four separate images of the rainbow, that were then combined together to form a single composite.

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