Ever catch a glimpse of a beautiful weather picture online and wonder how it was captured? No matter what filter you use on your phone you can never seem to get the full color spectrum of a beautiful sunset or sunrise. One of those photos you may be trying to imitate could be Mark Costa’s. He lives in New Jersey and has captured and shared some beautiful weather shots with Weatherboy. One of our meteorologists had a chance to speak with Mark about his passion for weather and photography.
Weatherboy: How long have you been interested in Photography?
Mark Costa: Seriously, only about 4 years since I purchased my first DSLR, a Canon T1i with a standard zoom lens and started shooting seriously with other experienced photographers. Unofficially — probably since college, and I graduated from Rutgers University in May of 1993. I did not, however, own a camera until my mom gave me my first camera, a point and shoot Canon PowerShot SX110 IS around 2009.
Weatherboy: Have you always been interested in capturing weather related shots or did that come after you became interested in photography?
Mark Costa: As an aviation buff, I’ve been fascinated with weather my entire life. In fact, as an undergraduate at RU I took “Elements of Meteorology” intro course an an elective. I don’t give it a great deal of thought when I’m composing a picture these days, but I seldom venture out unless there’s something extraordinary about the sky and/or local weather. Usually though, I just bring a camera with me when I leave the house — just in case! You never know what you’ll encounter during your daily commute.
Weatherboy: What type of equipment do you use. DSLR, Phone, or both? Do you do much post editing to the pictures before you publish them? Can you get great weather shots with a simple phone camera?
Mark Costa: These days I shoot with a Canon 60D and a variety of different lenses. Up until recently, my favorite lens for landscape purposes was a Sigma 24mm F1.8 DG Macro. Lately though, I’ve been shooting mostly with two different lenses: usually a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L, or occasionally Canon’s super wide EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 for landscape purposes. In terms of landscapes, wider is usually regarded as better, but I definitely favor a 35mm equivalent perspective for most frames. Editing? I usually crop because you never really see the full frame with a crop sensor APS-C camera — there’s always a bit of surprise– apply color correction as needed to most closely match real world light, and perhaps a bit of image sharpening. That’s it — no filters! I def favor HDR hi-dynamic range for sunrises and sunsets because HDR images done properly most closely resemble what we actually see with our own eyes. To create an HDR image, I use a tripod and timer or remote shutter, bracket 3 photos, -1 2/3, 0, +1 2/3 , and fuse the bracketed photos with Photomatix 3.2.4 software. You should know that all cameras struggle with the physics of sunsets. If you properly expose the sky, the landscape will be underexposed and look black, and if you properly expose the landscape and foreground, the sky will appear blown out. HDR is probably your best bet under these conditions, and even smart phones are capable of capturing high quality HDR images. I always carry my iPhone 5S and PowerShot SX110 IS most of the time. The best camera for any application is the one you have at your fingertips!
Weatherboy: Do you follow a weather forecast to try and predict when and where there will be great weather photo conditions?
Mark Costa: Pretty much everything I enjoy is outdoors, so I’m always looking at current conditions and forecast discussions. Me and all of my photographer friends are always discussing weather forecasts when planning a meetup. I do not, however, use the Photographer’s Ephemeris, or any special apps, like many other photographers.
Weatherboy: What types of weather can make for great pictures?
Mark Costa: In my experience, clearing skies hours behind any significant weather system, or frontal passage, make for the most dramatic skies. That said, skies usually determine what I shoot. Nothing says summer like calm conditions, reduced visibility because of haze and pastel colors — combined with a salt marsh and you have a classic summer frame. On the other hand, some of the most dramatic skies and pronounced colors occur at this time of year when seasons are changing! Here at the Jersey shore, every nor’easter and tropical cyclone offers the chance to witness forces of nature up close, or at least catch something unusual with a camera.
Weatherboy: Equipment aside, what advice can you give to someone that would want to capture great weather shots?
Mark Costa: Like I said before, the rule of thumb is wider is better…landscapes, which include the sky, are best framed with a wide angle lens. Get a tripod, any tripod — it really helps! Typically, early AM and late PM are the best hours to shoot for me because of my work schedule and the low angle of the sun casts a warm glow on the landscape. One piece of advice though: don’t point your camera directly at the sun — blown highlights and underexposed picture elements usually result. Instead, look at the sun and shoot in the same direction as the shadows for consistent and best results. That said, rules are meant to be broken and shooting into the sun and using backlight to create a soft image w/ glowing edges and transparency can be magical if done properly. And conventional wisdom is to shoot landscapes or skyscapes with a maximum depth of field, which in most cases is f/22. I seldom shoot above f/13, and often favor f/11. Learn when to follow rules, and know how & when to break them. But most importantly: always carry a camera if you plan to shoot weather.
Weatherboy: Do you notice one type of weather shot that always seems to get noticed more than others?
Mark Costa: Yes!!! Sunrises and sunsets, not so much golden ones, but pinks and reds are favored by most viewers. Autumn foliage is always popular with viewers, too.
Weatherboy: What’s your most memorable weather picture that you can remember taking? Sunset? Sunrise? Distant storm? Water feature?
Mark Costa: Hermine produced our best summer sunsets in recent history; otherwise, nothing in particular stands out. We didn’t have much severe weather this summer, and my attention and focus is now shifting to fall colors.
You can view Mark’s work here: https://www.facebook.com/markcostaphotography/