Predicting Weather for Landscape Photography
Predicting weather is arguably one of the most important aspects of landscape photography; we are bound by the weather to determine our quality of light and drama. Over the years I have become a bit of a weather geek, I have tried many different services and always comparing the quality of forecasts and information between them. The most reliable source I have come across is the website meteoblue. Keep reading to get the most out of the service!
At first, it looks like many other weather websites, which is very simplistic. On the 7-day weather page, which is the default you will see something like this.
This information is fairly good, but what I have found to be much more accurate and useful is the 'meteogram'. Click on the submenu on the left side under Forecast > Meteograms; you should see something that looks like this.
This looks like a lot of information to take in at once, but this is the beauty of it once you understand it. You will notice the white and yellow vertical bars, this distinguishes day from night, yellow being daytime. The top row is showing the temperatures throughout the week, with highs, lows, and some basic cloud/rain/snow info. The bottom row is showing you wind information, light blue is wind speed, dark blue is wind gusts, along with a direction marker along the top of this row. This row can be useful if you are looking to get dramatic windy conditions on sand dunes for example.
Where this gets interesting is the middle row, which is for cloud cover. This row gives you in-depth information on where there will high, mid, or low clouds; and how dense they will be. Most forecasts ignore high clouds because people tend to think of these as clear sky days, so in an average forecast it will call for clear skies, and you may be tempted to stay home. High clouds tend to produce most of the pink sunrises and sunsets that we see because it is easy for the low angle sun to get under these clouds and light them up. Along the bottom of this middle row, you can also see when a storm will be coming in; this example shows the potential for snow with the asterisks ***** on Thursday morning, the blue bar gives you an idea of how much precipitation can be expected.
Now on to some real world examples, below was the forecast in Glacier National Park from August 27. On the morning of Sunday, the 28th low clouds were predicted, which can create some of the most dramatic pictures possible, or entirely sock the area in with clouds creating gray, dreary conditions. This can be determined by how dark the gray of the clouds are in the meteogram. In this case, it was only a medium gray for Sunday morning, meaning the clouds will be broken allowing the sun to come through at times. You must also pay attention the clouds above to ensure they will allow the sun through, and this morning was a perfect setup to create the conditions seen in the photo below.
grey for Sunday morning, meaning the clouds will be broken allowing the sun to come through at times. You must also pay attention the clouds above to ensure they will allow the sun through, this morning was a perfect setup to create the conditions seen in the photo below.
Another example from the next day, Monday the 29th. In this instance, we can see there were showers predicted by the cyan colored bars at the bottom of the middle graph. What made me particularly excited about this was the fact that they were coming in at sunset, and the clouds were not dense, thus allowing sunlight to come through and lighting them up at sunset. The image below was created on that night with lightning crashing around me.
In the example below you can see, there are thick mid/high clouds predicted for Friday morning at sunrise. The forecast proved to be true, and there was no sun coming through, later in the morning the clouds began to break up as shown in the meteogram with lighter gray, and in the image taken that day.
Another example from Crested Butte, Saturday morning was predicted to be socked in with dark low clouds, along with snow. The clouds were as predicted with virtually no sun getting through for sunrise. The first image below was taken from that sunrise. The second image was taken in the afternoon, where just as predicted the clouds broke up and let the sun shine through.
As you can imagine, this works very well for finding clear skies for night photography as well. In the below forecast I highlighted what I believe will be good nights to photograph the night sky, both Wednesday and Thursday night have thin high clouds. These clouds will likely only be in portions of the sky, and if they end up being in your photo they will probably look good by adding a soft glow to the stars.
In addition to the meteogram there is another useful tool for planning out a night shoot, you can find this by going to the sidebar and expanding the 'Special' section, and selecting 'Astronomical seeing'. This was created for astronomers using telescopes, so a lot of the information is not relevant to wide angle night photography. The information you want to pay attention to is on the left side of the column for cloud cover, and when the moon is out.
meteoblue has become an invaluable resource for my photography, and all the information we need as photographers is free. The most important part about using this is paying attention to when storm systems are moving in and out. When you see a storm coming in or leaving near sunset or sunrise, get your gear and hit the road!
There is also a free iPhone app available, it can be a bit buggy, but you can view the meteograms in the app.
If you want to learn even more about predicting the weather, I would recommend this eBook by Stan Rose Weather Forecasting for Photographers.