Most of my photography is done outdoors, and living in Arizona gives me some great shooting opportunities. However, northern Arizona has one drawback, wind. It’s windy here, a lot. I went out to shoot aspens changing color recently in the Flagstaff area, but when I arrived there were constant 40 MPH winds with 50 MPH gusts. The leaves were really dancing, which is not what I wanted.
I’m used to this in northern Arizona. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. I’ve checked webcams on the afternoon before going to shoot changing colors, and everything was beautiful. But when I arrive the next morning, all the trees are bare. A strong wind had come through the night before and sent every single leaf to Neverland.
If you go out to shoot, and encounter wind, don’t despair. You have several options that will let you get great photographs.
If you’re shooting close to home, and coming back another day won’t be a problem, then do just that. Why deal with the frustration? Now if you can’t come back because of distance or some event, like leaves changing colors, that won’t be there in a few days, then you can do the following.
Use a flash
A flash can help to freeze the action giving you the sharp photos you want. You may want to do some experimentation with your shutter curtain. Set your digital camera to first curtain, and the flash will give you good illumination, but won’t do much to freeze the action.
Set your camera to second curtain, and you’ll still get blurred motion, but the flash will also freeze it. You will get a nice sharp image of a leaf, but it will also be surrounded by the color of the leaf as it was moving around.
Be careful to set your flash properly, so the photograph doesn’t look like a flash was used. For nature shots you still want that natural look.
High shutter speed
This will require some experimentation, depending on how hard the wind is blowing. Usually, a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second will do a great job of freezing the action.
Peak of action
Think like a sports photographer. Many times it’s easy to freeze action by taking your photo at the peak of action. At the height of a jump, the end of a swing and similar actions, motion stops.
That’s how I shot this agave. It was a windy day, and this 12 foot plant was swaying back and forth, covering about a foot each time. I positioned myself at the end of the arc and framed my picture, then at the peak of action I fired the shutter. In that brief moment the agave was perfectly still. This technique has worked for me many times.
Macro, close to the ground or stiff things
It’s not uncommon to have little or no wind close to the ground. I often look for tiny plants that are low to the ground because they are usually not affected by the wind as much as larger plants. Getting low and shooting macro can solve your wind problem. It may not be what you came to shoot, but at least you’re shooting and getting some nice photos.
There are also some stiff plants that don’t move unless there’s a gale outside. Some cactus, dry plants and others barely move in the wind.
This leafless tree wasn’t moving much
And this 2″ plant wasn’t moving either
Plant holder / Plamp
Engineering can also come to the rescue by clamping a plant or flower in place. You can buy a Plamp or make one with a DIY project. I made one with a $2 clamp from the hardware store, a piece of stiff electrical wire and a Velcro strap I had in a kitchen drawer.
The simplest solution is to put your camera on a tripod and hold the plant in place with your hand. I do this often.
Slow shutter speed
Your last option is to embrace the movement. I shot this aspen in a 40 MPH wind and used the slowest shutter speed I could get. I put a 0.9 (3 stop) neutral density filter on the lens and shot this photograph at 0.3 seconds.
Don’t let the wind ruin your day of shooting. Embrace it or control it and get the photographs you want.