If you’re a regular reader of the Capital Weather Gang, then you’re familiar with Joe Flood’s weather photos. He does a great job of capturing Washington in all four seasons. Here shared five tips on how to take better weather photos.

Compose yourself

Photography is more than just aiming your camera and hoping for the best. A good photo is one that is composed. You consider your subject and then select the best way to present it in a photograph.

While there are lots of composition rules, such as filling the frame and the rule of thirds, I like strong horizontal and vertical lines that lead the viewer into the picture. I also like photos with a single subject that captures the viewer’s attention. Landscape photos can seem flat without a point of reference to concentrate your focus.

But these are just my preferences. The important thing is that you make a considered choice before you click the shutter. Images aren’t captured; they’re created. It’s your vision of the world, one that you consciously decide to present to the viewer.

Know your phone

The best camera is the one you have with you, according to photographer Jay Maisel. And for most people, that’s the iPhone.

While I have a dedicated camera – a couple of them! – I take more photos with my iPhone than anything else, primarily because it’s always in my pocket. As a camera, the iPhone has its strengths and weaknesses.

It’s optimized for portraits and daylight because that’s what people like to shoot most. That makes it great for flower photos. Get close like you’re taking the picture of a friend. Closer. Never ever use the flash, which will wash out all the colors.

When shooting landscapes, keep your back to the sun. Wait until the “golden hour” just after sunrise and before sunset to capture beautifully soft light.

The iPhone is not good for night photos, which can appear grainy. Or zooming in. For some things, you still need a dedicated camera.

Rain and snow are also tough to capture with an iPhone. Instead, I try to imply the presence of rain by taking photos of people with umbrellas – your brain will fill in the rain, even if it can’t see it.

Also, don’t be afraid to fiddle with the editing tools in Photos. The enhance wand is a brute force tool that sharpens and enhances; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I like turning up the light and color in my photos, as well as adjusting the cast to make them warmer. Use the shadows slider to brighten the foreground. There’s a lot you can do with the manual controls to perfect your photo.

Include people

I worked in the marketing department of The Nature Conservancy. There I learned the importance of powerful photography to save the last great places on Earth.

It’s people. We had gorgeous shots of pristine landscapes but the photos that did best had people in them – even if they were just implied. You relate to a photo (and donate money), if you can picture yourself in it. To do so, you need to see a human, like a hiker amid the peaks.

Or maybe just a trail leading over the horizon. That’s enough for the viewer to imagine themselves there.

The same is true for weather photos. A photograph of a snowstorm is interesting. But, add a woman struggling through the drifts and then you have drama. We’re all rooting for that woman to make it home.

Get out of your car

Ernest Hemingway said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.”

I don’t own a car. Instead, I bike, which provides me a ground-level experience of the city. Without having to worry about parking, I can stop. I can meander. I can circle back to something interesting I spotted.

Biking also takes you to places that cars can’t reach, like the Capitol at dawn or a Mount Vernon Trail lined with yellow daffodils on a perfect spring day.

Riding a bike connects you to the weather. Some of the biggest Capital Weather Gang fans are cyclists. The forecast is very important if you’re outside and exposed to the elements. Biking year-round gives you a healthy respect for the weather as well as an appreciation for its ever-changing beauty.

Tell a weather story

Photos in Capital Weather Gang have to tell a weather story! That means it has to be about the weather, not a cute kitty or the new deck on your condo, as awesome as it might be.

So, what is a weather story? At a minimum, that means sky. Almost all my photos have sky, even if it’s just a glimpse of blue.

A weather story can be the first tulips after months of winter. It can be ultimate Frisbee players sweating on a hot day. Perhaps a street lined with ginkgo trees in fall. Or snow piled up against the back door.

Capital Weather Gang photos are a visual representation of the weather, as seen through the photographic vision of people like you. Paired with a forecast, they inform readers of what to expect for the day.

So, get out there and take some photos. And submit them to the Capital Weather Gang Flickr group. Maybe you’ll see your photo on the blog.

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington. Follow him on Twitter @joeflood.