Q - I've noticed that many prize-winning pictures are not sunlit scenes but those taken in rain, snow ot fog. Are they special techniques for taking photos under these conditions?
A - Yes indeed. When it's misting or pouring it's no time for a photographer to be snoring. It may be inconvinient for you to step out in foul weather, but it may be a step up for your photography.
There are special technique for each condition. When it's raining or right afterward, look for reflections. Pools of water and rain-sliked pavements act as mirrors to the scene above.
Traffic and car lights become shimmering ribbons of color. Neon lights and lighted windows glitter in iridescent reflection. Colorful rainwear and umbrellas add to the scene.
Try varying viewpoints. Notice that the reflections lengthen as you lower your camera until at near ground level there's sea of color. Try some views from above. Go up into buildings and look out of the windows at the clusters of umbrellas (at least you'll stay dry).
Don't overlook lighted public buildings and statues. You'll get double the light by including their reflections. Exposure can be a problem.
If your composition includes the lighted scene plus the reflection, then take your meter reading by including half of each. However, if you're going solely for the reflection, then take it from a brightly-lighted middle area of the reflected image.
If you're shooting color use a daylight film to increase the warmth and brilliance of the colors. Use one of the warm-cast films like Kodachrome, agfa or Fuji.
Exposure, especially for color, will be ticky. The light level will be low and the intensity of the reflections will vary. So carry a tripod (besides your umbrella) and bracket your exposures.
In snow scenes go for texture. Don't shoot with the light but with the sun shinning either from the left or right even back-lighted. The best time is morning or afternoon, when the low sun casts a slanting light that brings out the blanket-like folds of the covering snow. On backlighted scenes include the sun in the lens. This will give you a focal point of star-like if you're shooting at a small aperture or interesting light patterns as the lens opening is multiplied by internal reflections on the lens surfaces.
Snow scenes can be shot literally if the light is interesting, or you can vary the mood by over or underexposure.
In fog and mist pictures look for pattern. And you'll have to look constantly, because fog is fickle and hides or reveals form constantly.
Look for strongly silhouetted foreground patterns--a gnarled tree, a pier or a boat or a building with an interesting outline. These will give you a strong center of composition. In a way, fog and mist help simplify the picture because they reduce depth to two dimensions, near and in back of it. There is no horizon.
In fog watch for pastel tones caused by the diffusion of light through the misty curtain. Often a stronger accent of the same color, like asstreet light bulb against the pink tint of the fog, will make an effetive picture. Meter fog picture from the bright light areas, not the foreground silhouette, so you don't overexpose.
When shooting under unusual lighting conditions, bracket--vary your exposures--because color film is balanced for sunlight and will react differently with other kinds of light. But don't worry, befause this accidental factor, too, can result in interesting effects.