Balancing dark clouds with sunlight. In this view the black clouds had just enough detail to be interesting, but dark enough that even the slightest underexposure and the image would loose all detail in the clouds. The challenge was to expose the clouds so they look dark but have some detail, and at the same time not to over expose the sunlit portion of the image.
I did not to use a split grad filter or HDR as I very much wanted to keep the dark versus light contrast. This is only possible if the difference between light and dark is not too great (usually 6 stops or so for our digital sensors.) I was shooting late evening so was in luck that the sunlight was soft. Remember good photography is 9 parts preparation and 1 part luck (or is it 9 parts luck?)
Here is the drill;
If you are not comfortable shooting in full manual keep your camera in one of the program modes (landscape is a good choice here) take a few frames and bracket the exposure. To do this use the exposure control on your camera (it is the +/- button) and take a few photos bumping the exposure between the – and + side of the scale in your viewfinder. Take a series of image and one of them will most likely have the balance you are looking for. NOTE; the exposure control is the most important custom setting you’ll use, and is the FIRST control you should read up on and practice!
If you are comfortable shooting in full manual try this. Fill the frame with the clouds (you can zoom in or just re-frame) and expose for neutral exposure; check the image to see if you have a the detail and exposure in the clouds you are looking for. I like dark clouds to stay dark with just a bit of detail as in the image above. Then re-frame the image and take your shot. If the sunlit area is well exposed your golden!
The first challenge on storm photography is safety. Many photographers have been struck by lighting, fallen into swollen ditches and creeks that were dry just a few minutes before, and struck by cars who’s drivers don’t have good sense to slow down or stop in heavy rain or hail. Its easy to loose yourself in the viewfinder – but remember mother nature will spank you, severely for being careless.
The second challenge is that the light changes by the second. This is not a place to learn new features of your camera! Keep it simple, try only what you know and you’ll grab a few good shots!