Shoot like a Pro

Taking photos in bad weather

Written by Deb Tappan

Don’t sit inside with your camera when the weather is bad. Take advantage of the many photo opportunities.

Go with the flow: Bad weather doesn’t mean bad photo opportunities

Recently I returned from photo taking journey to New Mexico. Those who know me are aware of my aversion to setting an itinerary. Generally, the only things written in concrete, so to speak, are flights to and from my destination and the all-too-important rental vehicle. That’s it; typically pretty fluid.

PetroglyphYou may be wondering how I decide where to go? First I decide what state/province to fly into based on the season and availability of bargain flights. I familiarize myself with that region’s national parks and protected lands. This is gleaned from sources such as the National Park Service ( and the Bureau of Land Management ( Hiking guides detailing specific national parks or BLM parcels are also very useful. Two of my favorites are the Sierra Club guides for thorough trail descriptions and the Falcon Guides series for both scenic drives and hiking information.

Once I’m at a national park or BLM land I immediately run to the ranger station or visitor’s center. I always find a bounty of information pertaining to that specific place including fantastic geologic and ecologic publications and maps.

Speaking of maps, I don’t hike anywhere without a good topographic map and a compass. These are invaluable and available at your local hiking outfitter, the visitor’s centers of the national parks as well as ranger stations. Don’t head out on a trail without them.

On this trip I wanted to visit several specific federally protected lands and sanctuaries. I also wanted to be at White Sands for the full-moon and, I absolutely had to go to Roswell to get a space alien artifact for my Dad. I had nearly two weeks to do this and it didn’t matter when during that time I did them. This was to be my typical hiking/photography trip.

The weather in New Mexico, up until my visit that is, was spectacular! Photogenic skies, a few fluffy clouds, pleasant summer-like temperatures; in a word, glorious. What developed, however, would end up keeping me zigzagging across the state, not unlike how my dog takes me for walks.

There were enormous lightening storms, hail, tornado warnings, snow and rain storms and floods. I was there for it all! Every location I arrived at to hike and photograph was hit with one of these atmospheric creations. Unbelievable!

MissionWithin ten minutes of arriving anywhere, a storm of one form or another would appear and persist! Then, within minutes of my leaving a region, the prior location would free itself of its “bad” weather. The pattern kept repeating itself over and over again! And yes, it got rather frustrating.

You may wonder what any of this has to do with photography. Well, in this case, everything! Fog, storm clouds and even light rain can be lovely elements to include in the composition but severe weather is another story. It’s really not that simple to hike and photograph during a downpour. Wet camera gear is a definite “uh-oh!” even when armed with large zip lock bags in which to stash it. And think twice about toting that tripod during a lightening storm. I thought this was going to be my typical hiking/photography trip discovering some of the unique geological and ecological features of the state, not one seriously hampered by weather.

This trip wasn’t turning out like I wanted. So, after getting cranky when realizing I couldn’t even leave the state for better weather (the system covered parts of Arizona, Utah and Colorado), and knowing I couldn’t change the weather myself, I gave in to the flow.

“Fine! O.K. Weather, you lead the way.

By giving letting the weather guide me, I was led to numerous fascinating locales. This New Mexico trip suddenly turned fabulous! I couldn’t have planned for these experiences if I tried.

What resulted was a marvelous discovery of diverse cultures; traditions; history both ancient and historic. Photographically, what coalesced was a new collection of images that I’m delighted to have had the opportunity and privilege to shoot. If it wasn’t for the weather cramping my “hike and shoot” style, I never would have had the experiences I encountered on this trip.

There’s a lesson here.

Even the most unconstrained and flexible of us occasionally has to be reminded to practice what we preach; to REALLY “go with the flow”. Nature isn’t, after all, static. It is dynamic and full of surprises. So, always be open to those changes presented to you. You’ll see; you’ll have the time of your life with memorable and stunning photos to boot!

About the author

Deb Tappan

Natural history photographer Deb Tappan, a native of Indiana, received concurrent degrees from Indiana University in both Telecommunications and Environmental Studies before eventually calling Tennessee home with husband Paul and dog Utah.
Involved with newspaper production for many years, she "retired" from the University of Tennessee where she had served for 15 years. Deb now is dynamically engaged in her other life's passions.

For more than a decade, Deb has hiked in and
explored many of our national parklands. Through her photography, she has attempted to "transport" the magnificent topography, life forms, and natural history from wherever she finds them.

"Invariably the uniqueness and beauty of wild lands
always manage to move me. I'm awestruck by their diversity of texture and essence. It brings me great joy to be able to share those sights in this way and to, hopefully, nurture the same sense of awe and devotion to their protection and

Deb's interest in photography was kindled when she was quite young. "It is a gift from my Dad. He was the one who introduced me to photography and black and white printing. Using the furnace room of our house as the darkroom and
an old movie projector as an enlarger he showed me the magic of print making and capturing those moments of time."

Deb's photographic skills have continued to evolve. She maintained a wet darkroom (in a closet) initially and now has moved into
the digital age. A digital SLR rounds out her equipment. Not foregoing film, she uses a high end film/slide scanner.

In the spring of 2003, Deb launched her site and store which showcase her photographic work. Currently, her photographs hang
in residences and offices across the country.

In addition to her photography, Deb is involved with the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other academic pursuits and environmental causes.

isn't static."

Thumbnails are of photos by Deb Tappan - used with permission. Copyright Deborah Siminski Tappan. All rights reserved