Weather To Get Of Bed Or Not

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The weather always seems to be in the news these days, and if not in the news it’s always at the end of it, and has been for 60 years. The BBC weather forecast began on 11th Jan 1954, with hand drawn isobars and fronts on a small map of the UK. Prior to that the only forecast was a monotone stilted verbal summary at closedown that was often too late for the people who needed it most, farmers and sailors always used technical language that was not easily understood outside the world of meteorology. When presenter, George Cowling gave his first forecast in a friendly, easily understood language it was an immediate hit. Cowling even went as far as to say the following day would be a good day to hang out your washing, fortunately for him and the weather forecast it was. Perhaps the first TV weather forecast started the British obsession with the weather, or at least gave us a focus for it.

There have been a number of notable moments in the 60 years of the forecast. In 1967 when colour television began the original weather map was replaced with a steel chart and basic rubber magnetic symbols used; triangles were used for showers, dots for rain and flexible lines for isobars. In 1975 the classic stylised weather symbols were introduced and used for until 1985, occasionally falling when the magnetism wore off. Computer graphics replaced the much loved symbols, and the forecast was never the same again. The computer graphics didn’t help though when Michael Fish failed to predict, in fact dismissed the idea, that a hurricane was on its way on 14th October 1987, probably the single most infamous weather forecast in history. In 2005 the digital weather map was updated with state-of-the-art graphic 3D image of the UK. The BBC quickly learned not to mess with our weather too much as they received over 16,000 complaints. The land was too brown, the movement around the map gave people motion sick. Worst of all, the map was in perspective from somewhere in the middle of France so that the south of England was massive in comparison with Scotland, where arguably most of the weather is. What is puzzling me, especially recently, is how do we know how strong the wind is? The arrows seen to vary in speed of movement across the map, their size, their thickness, how many arrows there are and how close they are together. I'm confused?

But what makes good weather for photography? That varies on what you’re trying to take, and when. It’s easier to say what weather isn’t the best for photography : bright sunshine in the middle of the day. It’s too bright, there’s too much contrast between the highlights and shadows , the colours become too saturated. But sometimes you have to take photographs during the middle of the day. You can’t say to the Bride and Groom the sun is too bright for their wedding photographs, you have to work around it. For the wedding itself, everyone wants a bright sunshiny day. For the photographer a dull day that gives a nice diffused even light is preferred, but it’s not the photographer’s day, it the happy couples. So let’s hope it’s always nice, even if bright sunshine can cause highlights and shadows on faces, dapples the light if under trees, makes people squint if looking directly into the sun or gives lens flare of shooting into the sun; none of which is good for portrait shots. To avoid this the simple answer is shoot in the shape or make your own shade with a diffuser.

For landscape, flower or garden photography, the recognised wisdom is only to shoot within an hour of dawn or the hour before sunset, any other time is frowned on. But the type of weather not always critical and can vary depending on the time of year. Bright clear skies are always welcomed, not least because they make you feel just that bit better, but too clear a sky is boring. Clouds give interest, shape, tone, colour and depth to the skies, without them at least a third of the photograph is just plain. Sometimes “bad” weather is often a brilliant subject for photography. A clearing sky after a rain storm is often dramatic with extremes of tone, stunning colours and wonderful clouds. A misty icy morning, although cold on the toes, fingers, ears and nose presents many visual treats. A snowy mountain scene is always beautiful, but the photographer has to be on location first thing in the morning, before the roads have been cleared and the snow is undisturbed. And a stormy sea can be the subject of many spectacular photographs. No one said it would be easy, and it’s the photographer that goes the extra that takes that picture that no one else does.

So spare a thought for the poor photographer who has to go out in all weathers and long before normal peoples alarms go off to try and capture that winning image, without any guarantee that the weather just how they need it to be. But at least, believe it or not, today’s weather forecast is far more accurate than it was when the first TV weather forecast began. Today’s 4 day forecast is more accurate than the one day forecast on Jan 1954, but maybe we’re also a little poorer for that as when the weather is just a little too predictable there is no surprise, good or bad.
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