Falling Water

Cold, Wet, and Windy…Tips for Miserable Nature Photographers

I took this shot in the Columbia River Gorge – in between bouts of stinging hail and pouring rain.

Are you willing to go out and shoot in wet conditions? We often shoot in the rain – and we’ve been out there in some pretty nasty weather… thunderstorms, hail, sand-storms, windstorms, snowstorms… nasty weather can make shooting difficult. But unless the weather is dangerous, we don’t mind shooting in it. It’s about being prepared.

High winds, rain, and ocean spray made this shot from Iceland particularly difficult to capture.

Please don’t take this as an invitation to go out when the weather is dangerous… lightening can be deadly, and so can serious storms. Please stay in a safe place if there are tornado warnings, hurricane warnings, or other hazardous conditions. We’ve booked it out of locations that we felt could be dangerous more than once – because of the possibility of flash flooding, trees that might come crashing down on us (no kidding… it happens more often than you think!), high waves, and more.

Each wave splashed my lens, and rain made it difficult to stay dry while we were shooting in Glacier National Park… but that alpenglow made it all worthwhile!

But when safety is not a concern, we often shoot in nasty weather. Here are some tips that can make a real difference when you are shooting in difficult weather.

  • Use a waterproof cover to protect your camera while you are shooting. Our cameras are weather-sealed, but they certainly aren’t entirely waterproof. We use simple waterproof covers with elastic to keep them in place. Nothing fancy. If you don’t have a cover, use a plastic bag with a hole cut from one corner for the lens to poke through. It works just a well.
  • Carry a waterproof cover for your camera bag as well. It will protect your gear and your bag from the elements. When you are back indoors, be sure to open up your bag and let everything dry out. Moisture can seep in over time, and leaving the bag closed means it will take a lot longer to dry out. Even if your bag is dry inside, your camera strap and other gear may collect water while you are shooting. When you put it back in the back, that water doesn’t evaporate quickly.
  • Always carry waterproof and windproof gear. Jay and I both carry a waterproof jacket and waterproof pants in our camera bag. They fit neatly into the front pocket, and they stay there all the time, unless we are using them… or drying them out. ;) We use them for rain, of course – but we also use them a lot when it’s windy. A wind-proof layer makes a huge difference, especially when it’s cold. We can stay out a lot longer if we are protected from the wind than we could otherwise.
  • Neoprene shoes don’t keep your feet dry – but they do help keep you warm when you are walking in cold water. We spent three house walking in the Paria River in Utah one winter. With each step, our feel broke through three layers of ice before plunging into frigid water underneath. Or feet were warm and comfortable.
  • Wear fleece underneath. Fleece makes a great warmth layer – and it holds less than 1% of it’s weight in water, so it doesn’t get soggy or heavy when you are working in the rain. But it doesn’t block wind well, so wear it underneath your waterproof/windproof layer for best results. When we went for that hike in the Paria River, we wore fleece pants underneath a waterproof layer. They were in the water with every step, but they didn’t get waterlogged, and they helped capture the heat from our bodies.
  • Wear fleece OVER a pair of quick-dry pants. Sounds silly, I know. But the fact is that in many cases, we only need that warmer layer in the morning and evening. We often deal with freezing conditions in the morning, and then end up having to remove layers later in the day. If your quick-dry pants are underneath your fleece layer, you get the benefit of the warm layer, but you can also remove it quickly. You’ll be ready to keep going in your quick-dry pants all day – and when it gets cold again in the evening, you can put that fleece layer back on and you are good to go.
  • Quick-dry pants? Definitely! The first time I visited Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, I didn’t own any quick-dry pants. I waded through the river to get to a waterfall, and ended up knee-deep in the water. Wet jeans are very heavy, and they take forever to dry. By the time we returned to the car, I was freezing cold. Jay had a pair of quick-dry pants. His were dry within about 30 minutes of climbing out of the river – and he was comfortable and warm. Now, I have several pairs, and I always use them when I’m on location.
  • Carry chemical heat packs. We keep a couple of these in our pockets when we are out in the cold. In between shots, we can warm our hands by sticking them in our pockets – and we can help extend the life of our batteries, by putting our camera inside our jackets. You can also keep one in your camera bag to help keep your batteries from draining because of the cold. You can put them inside your shoes if your feet are cold, too. I even put two inside my hood by my cheeks once. My face was getting really cold in the wind, so I cinched my hoods nice and tight, and placed heat packs between the two layers against my cheeks. I wouldn’t recommend putting these directly on your skin – especially when you are very cold. A layer of fabric will protect your skin from direct heat, and help to radiate the heat more evenly.
  • And what about post-production? Be ready to clone out water droplets! We use a Wacom graphics tablet and the power of Photoshop to make short work of water, dust, dirt, sand… you name it!

It was REALLY cold out there! But it doesn’t get much prettier than Bryce Canyon after a snow storm!

The photos on this page were all taken in difficult conditions. But because we were prepared, we weren’t uncomfortable. Take care of yourself and your gear, and you’ll be able to shoot even when the weather isn’t cooperating! Have fun – and stay safe!

This one is from our Photo Walk at San Gregorio Beach. It was cold and windy – and the water was chilly, too! Brrr!

To learn more about photography check out our ebooks and webinar below:

Wyoming Summer

Featured Download: Wyoming Summer

This shot is from our wonderful  2008 Yellowstone vacation with the kids. So, this featured download is a tribute to summer…

Click to Download

Our trip to Yellowstone was a fantastic experience for the kids – and it was my first trip to the park as well. This shot doesn’t show the geysers for which the park is best known – but for me, that’s not important. It’s a little slice of summer.

Do you remember how much you loved summer when you were a kid? My childhood was all about playing in the fields behind our home in northern Idaho – and later, in the creek behind our house in Ohio. In Idaho, my friend and I would climb under the barbed wire fence (ouch) and catch frogs in the pasture, or ride our bikes to the lake and watch the turtles. In Ohio, I climbed trees, caught crawdads, and built dams in the creek… and when I was older, I went hiking or canoeing as often as I could. For me, summer is all about the great outdoors.

We try to pass on our love of nature to our children – we take the kids canoeing every summer, and fishing too. They spend hours catching crawdads and minnows and playing in the river near our home every summer. Having kids makes it easy to keep in touch with your inner child, too.  Have you caught a crawdad with your bare hands recently? Built a big fort out of sticks and brush? Saved a butterfly from a spider’s web? Built a canal out of stones along the river’s edge? I did all those things last summer – with my children.

I have to say – this was a fun post to write! :) What do you remember from your childhood summers? I’d love to hear it!

Summer is good for the soul. Enjoy it while it lasts!


ebook: Learning to See

Price:  $10.00

Format:  eBook, PDF format, 35 pages

Size:  18.6MB

Requirement:  Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or greater


Learning to see creatively is about thinking outside the box. Professional photographers, Varina and Jay Patel have expanded and improved their original eBook to create a fantastic, in-depth guide for any photographer who has ever felt uninspired by light, subject, or location. There are more than thirty brilliantly colorful pages filled with examples of creative compositions, unique perspectives, and unusual techniques. Varina and Jay work hard to make the most of their time on location. Discover the tricks they use to capture beautiful images in any conditions, and build up your own collection of creative options. Get ready to exercise the right side of your brain and expand your photographic vision!

  • Every page offers new ideas and suggestions for expanding your creative repertoire. More than 15 brand new pages offer even more depth and knowledge!
  • A dynamic collection of original photographs by Varina and Jay Patel provide real-world examples for each technique – with detailed explanations to help you use the ideas in your own work.
  • A detailed “field guide” pulls together the most important points for easy reference when you need inspiration or ideas.


Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington (WA), USA

Quick Tips: Colors

One of the most frequent question we hear about our photograph is, “How do you manage to capture such vibrant colors?” The commonly held belief is that the photograph must be manipulated in post-processing to get such brilliant colors. While, some post-processing is necessary to bring out the colors you see in the photograph, in most cases, it’s as simple as selecting the proper white balance. The art of capturing vibrant colors beings in the field.

Take a look at the two photographs above. Both photographs were taken in the same location in Olympic National Park… so why are the colors in the photograph on the left more vibrant and natural than the one on the right? The photograph on the left was taken in spring on a day when the skies were overcast. The soft, scattered light helps bring out the brilliant colors of the newly formed leaves. The photograph on the right was taken during a summer afternoon in the harsh lighting conditions produced by clear blue skies at midday. The resulting photograph is dull, and shows lots of underexposed and overexposed areas. Bright light in the background and dark shadows threw off the exposure for the entire image, and the scene just looks wrong. Proper exposure is essential for capturing brilliant colors – and the quality of the light and the time of year matter too!

To learn more about how to capture and process photograph in vibrant colors check out eBooks below:


Quick Tips: Reflections

Lost in Thought - Varina Patel

Have you ever tried to make the reflections an entire image? This is exactly what Varina did in the image above.

This image of stork was taken in Everglades National Park during our 2011 workshop….Varina was looking for something creative that would set her shot apart from other animal shots.

Often times with reflecting images you get imperfections in the rippling water… like the bending beak in this shot. But these imperfections give the image a bit of character.

Compare this with Jay’s image of another stork (below). In Varina’s shot, the subject is isolated against the reflected blue sky in the water… and the upside-down bird with all its imperfections adds interest and grabs your attention. My shot below is just another bird portrait – full of distractions. And the head of the bird gets lost in all those grasses behind him.

So next time you go out in the field… look for reflections. Maybe you’ll capture something unique!

To learn more about composition and color check out our eBooks below:

Composition - R1

Quick Tips: Point of Interest

Touched with Light - Varina Patel
What is the most important element in your photograph? Can you identify it, or is your eye pulled from one element to another? The next time you go out to shoot, take a moment to consider the scene carefully.

Dare to be Different B&W - Varina Patel


Choose a single interesting element… a leaf, a water droplet, a rock, a tree… and see if you can find a way to make that element stand out in your photograph. There are so many ways to build an image around a single point of interest.

  • Remove distracting elements from the frame by moving around to change your composition… or by moving them physically.
  • Use a wide aperture to blur out distracting details in front of or behind your point of interest.
  • Use color to make one object stand out.
  • Use leading lines to direct the viewers attention toward your point of interest.
  • Watch for patterns… an element that breaks the pattern will attract attention.

There may be many elements in the scene that interest you. Why not make several images – each showcasing one interesting object – rather than trying to include them all in a single frame?

To learn more about composition and color check out our eBooks below:


eBook: What the heck is a Histogram?

Price: $10.00

Format: eBook, PDF format, 37 pages

Size: 21.9 MB

Requirement: Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or greater


This in-depth guide to histograms provides all the information you’ll need to learn to make the most of one of the most powerful  - and often overlooked – tools in digital photography. A quick glance at this little graph on the back of your camera can tell you if  you have captured detail in the shadows, if your highlights are blown, if you need to bracket your images, and if your image is properly exposed. Professional nature photographers and accomplished teachers, Varina and Jay Patel will walk you through the process of reading, interpreting, and using histograms – while you are in the field and during post-processing in Adobe Photoshop. They use simple language and a wealth of real-world examples to teach you how to use your histogram.

Click on thumbnails below to see sample pages from this eBook:


The Resident Giant, Twinsburg, Ohio

Photographing Fall Colors

Autumn is coming soon to a region near you! We wanted to pull together a few examples for inspiration – and some tips to help you make the most of your time in the field.

This image taken from top of Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga National Park. We arrived just before sunrise, and Varina used a wide angle lens to capture the color in the sky before it faded. She bracketed the shot in order to capture the entire dynamic range, and then used our manual iHDR Technique to combine three images.

Ohio, USA

Overcast skies are common this time of year, and they provide soft, even lighting – which is ideal for back-lighting fall leaves. Soft directional lighting lets the leaves glow without leaving them overexposed. Jay took this photograph off-trail at Liberty Park.

While enjoying the fall colors, don’t forget to notice the small details. Varina found these pretty leaves beside the trail. She stacked them to show the brilliant hues side by side.  If you are shooting small details in bright sun, use a diffuser to soften the light.

Choosing a Dress - Varina Patel

We try to make the most of reflections at any time of year, but in the fall, they can be particularly beautiful. In this photograph from last year, Jay used the calm waters of Maroon Lake in Colorado to capture the reflection of the fall colors on the mountains. Jay choose NOT to use his circular polarizer filter because it would have minimized the reflections of the mountains and clouds.

And finally, make the most of Autumn’s beautiful skies! Changing weather conditions can mean quickly-changing skies. When the clouds put on a show, make sure you are ready to capture breathtaking fall color juxtaposed with dramatic skies!

Under a Perfect Sky - Varina Patel

Tips for Photographing Falls Colors

  • Fall colors are easiest to photograph under a thin, even cloud cover. This provides soft overcast light that helps balance out the highlight and shadows. Soft, morning or evening light is beautiful as well – but controlling the dynamic range can be difficult.
  • Don’t forget to notice the details – pay attention to water droplets on leaves, and the texture of bark on the trees.
  • Use a circular polarizer to reduce scattered light and enhance Fall colors. This is especially effective when you are photographing wet leaves.
  • When necessary, use a GND filter to balance the light. This will bring out the details in every part of the image.
  • Look for reflections to enhance the colors of the fall images. Don’t use a circular polarizer when you are trying to capture reflections.

To learn about photography and capturing vibrant colors check out our ebooks below:

Composition and Perception

Quick Tips: Using a Long Lens

Blinded by the Light - Varina Patel

This is a photo from the Florida Everglades. I was struck by the beauty of the rising sun over the distant horizon – but my wide-angle lens would not have been able to do justice to the scene. The fact is, this incredible golden color was only present right around the rising sun. The rest of the sky was a bright, clear blue – and these were the only visible clouds. So, I put the wide-angle lens away, and pulled out my 135mm prime.  The longer lens let me fill the frame with gold – leaving me with an extremely simple, monochromatic color scheme. The sun calls out for attention here – and I included a small stand of dwarf cypress trees as a secondary point of interest. I chose a diagonal composition for a more dynamic image… and to compliment the angle of the sunbeams.

I needed to think fast for this shot – a few more seconds and the sun and clouds had shifted their positions. I wanted the sun just peeping out from behind the cloud as you see it here. Luckily – aside from a quick lens change – very little setup was required. I didn’t need a GND filter, since the range of light is actually relatively even. And a circular polarizer won’t do much for you if you are shooting directly in to the sun… so I didn’t need that either. I did use a tripod – more out of habit than anything else. My shutter speed was 1/640 sec, so I could have hand-held the shot without a problem.

Post-processing took just a few minutes. I chose the color balance carefully – making sure that the golden light seemed to glow. An incorrect color balance would have left this image feeling dull and heavy – and with light like this, that would have been a crime!

I was also careful to control the blown highlights in this shot. It’s perfectly acceptable to have blown highlights in an image when you are shooting directly into the sun. If you look directly at the real sun, can you see detail there? Of course not. So, reducing the brightness of the sun would result in an extremely unnatural-looking image. On the other hand, the last thing I want to do is end up blowing out half my sky. So, I kept a close eye on my histogram and kept my adjustments very controlled.

A little bit of contrast – not too much. No saturation adjustment necessary. That’s about it.

To learn more about perception and composition, check out our ebooks below available for purchase:

Quick Tips: Cropping

Elowah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA

Does “One-Size-Fits-All” really make sense? I know I’ve made the mistake of buying a garment that claims to be OSFA – only to find that it sure as heck doesn’t fit ME! Of course, we can’t expect every image to fit neatly into the camera’s standard 2:3 format.

How often do you crop an image? Oftentimes nature offers up a display that just does not fit within the standard format of the camera. Rather than feeling confined by the frame the camera offers, consider cropping to make the composition more effective.

This panoramic image was created by cropping out the distracting, uneven foreground from the original image shown below. The waterfalls is the central point of interest – it stands out because it is brighter than the surrounding area. The foreground in the original shot adds little or nothing to the photo… in fact, it is somewhat distracting. A quick and simple crop removes the distraction, leaving us with an effective photo in an unusual, and attention-grabbing format.

Elowah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA

Next time an image doesn’t’ feel quite right in its 2:3 frame, see if a crop helps to make the image more effective. When it comes to photography, one size most definitely does NOT fit all.

To learn more about photography check out our eBooks below:
Workflow Series Collection
Apprentice Series Collection