If you’re a documentary photographer, a street photographer, or a sports photographer, bad weather and rain will undoubtedly add to the value of your pictures. However, if you’re a travel photographer trying to advertise a destination (No really, you are. Travel photographers need to show the good side of a spot, even if there is load of crap in between), you need to create the right images no matter what.
But, when it comes to travel photography, what are “the right” images? Let’s go a step further and question what a tourist, traveler, or backpacker desires when they arrive to a destination. Which kind of keywords could describe both a trip to the long beaches of Koh Lanta, a day in a mountain top cabin in Switzerland and a weekend in Stockholm?
Even though it may sound like the biggest cliché since sliced bread, I would suggest the words “warm” and “inviting”. Think about it: No-one likes to be cold; it’s not a choice we make – our bodies physically can’t stand low temperatures. Not liking being cold doesn’t mean “not liking to be in a cold place”. But the sure-way to not enjoying your snowboard vacation in the Alps is to spend half the day shattering your teeth because you aren’t wearing enough clothes. Imagine yourself spending five hours, cold and wet, on the slope. Now imagine yourself opening the door to the candle lit wooden mountain peak ski hut, taking your wet salopettes off and sitting down in front of the fire with a cup of tea. Which vision takes your fancy?
When it comes to “inviting” it is similar for all of us.
Some of us believe that a deserted island is the most welcoming place on earth, thanks to its tranquility. Others can’t wait to get to the haywire streets of Delhi, to meet the welcoming smiles and warm skin of the inhabitants. Even if it differs from person to person, you´ll have to make your destination inviting.
Sometimes you’ll have weeks at the same destination, giving you more than enough time to capture both the warm sunset and direct sun-light on brown skin. But sometimes, it is a quick job, where you need to collect all the material for the article in just a few days. And if your karma is off, the gods might very well give you four days of rain.
So what do you do?
How can you make a rainy and cold place look inviting?
It´s not possible, right? Let’s just pack your bags and go home… Hell no! First of all; if you want to see yourself as something even close to a professional travel photographer you need to man up. If you give your editor at the magazine a call when you get home, saying you weren’t able to get any pictures because the weather was bad, they will most certainly send someone that is able to, next time.
It is more than possible to capture warm and inviting, even when the streets are never dry. All the photographs in this post are taken during the same three days in Amsterdam. It was pouring down the entire time (trust me I know, I realized that I had holes in both of my boots. Thanks, karma. Thanks).
Here’s a pretty long list with tips on how to make a place feel less wet and chilly.
1. Photograph people
Humans are herd animals. We like the sight of other people, we love to be around others. Including portraits or at least pictures of people are substantial for a travel photographer and if the weather prevents you from putting warmth in you reportage by shooting burning summer scenes, you’ll need to step up the number of faces to make it even.
2. Capture smiles
A grin is the universal sign for “I frikking like you, come here and gimme some love, god dammit!”. Talk to people you meet, listen to what they have to say and make them feel comfortable around you. Capture their smiles with your green mean photography machine and let them welcome your viewers with their smiles.
3. Don’t show the ground
Unless it is raining at the moment, you’ll often be able to hide the feeling of bad weather as long as you cut out the puddles on the ground. Wet asphalt is the least inviting floor there is. Shoot from an angle that will make the ground disappear.
4. Shoot from outside and in
A travel article needs to be diverse. The longer it is, the more kinds of pictures you need. A five spread travel story is hard to cover with only indoor photographs so you need to get your mojo going and become inventive. To simply shoot people from outdoors and right through a window will give you the warm lights from the inside but still a feeling of outdoors.
5. Show a lot of colors
Colors are like happy-pills! Look around for colored clothes, tiled walls and paintings that could add some life to your work. Use them as backgrounds for portraits or as standalone photographs.
6. Take advantage of large windows
Soft light is very inviting and warm. The smooth effect from the window light will wrap everything you capture in a cuddly glow. Whether it is a person or a plate of food you have in front of you, move it closer to a window.
7. Catch the few moments without rain
Stay sharp so that you don’t miss the few moments when the clouds burst open for a few moments of sunshine. Just one shot of blue skies and sunlight could give the image of an evergreen city when in reality there were only a few minutes without the damned Mordor clouds.
8. Show bright and white
If you would describe a summer day, you would probably use words like “bright” or “light”, right? Mimic that feeling by including a lot of white areas and bright walls. Make sure to turn the exposure up a notch in Photoshop too.
9. Find big spaces indoors
Have you ever felt that the walls of the matchbox office you’ve spent the entire day in are closing in on you and you just need to get out and feel space around you? Unless you are covering the opening of a mental asylum hotel, you probably don’t want the readers of the magazine to feel claustrophobic. Make your way to some large indoor locales. It could be a huge hangar serving as a pop-up gallery or a large hotel lobby. Your goal is to capture images that are presenting the feeling of space and freedom.
10. Use warm light sources
As you know, different light sources have different temperatures. I.e light-bulbs and candles have got a warmer tone than day light. Either use the light from those kinds of sources to light your subject or simply include the source itself in the picture. If the sun is hidden behind clouds and rain, you’ll have to find a good substitute for its warm rays.
11. Post-produce the heat
Usually, slightly raising the color temperature in post production, making it a little bit more yellow, will give anyone that looks at the images that warm, fuzzy feeling that only a tiny puppy can. Make sure it doesn’t look like you put a Instagram filter on the picture though. Keep it to a minimum.
12. Catch warm moments
Warmth is not only conveyed through the esthetics of your surroundings. It can also be shown through happy moments. Keep your eyes open for interactions between the people around you and snap shots of friends and family shaking hands, hugging and smiling together.
13. Make it black & white
Yeah, we’ve all done it: Converted a picture with lousy light and washed-out colors to black and white to hide the sad truth. By elevating the exposure and contrasts, you will add more punch to the picture. Not all art directors will accept black and white though, so make sure to check before sending them.
14. Leave the jackets out of it!
When was the last time you heard someone say “Oh, I can’t wait for the rain and snow so that I can once again stumble around in a soaking wet quilted jacket!”? No-one wants to wear a thick jacket or raincoat, keep them out of the picture.
You don’t need many square inches as your scene. Take it down to a detailed level and find colors and details around you. Make sure to use a good light, preferably from a large window, when shooting details.
The more of these bullet points you fit into one and same picture, the better! Now, stop whining and make the rain stop!