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The Best All In One Weather App You Need For Landscape Photography; Windy.com

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Download this amazing app: IOS - Android

A beautiful sunset which was predicted using the weather forecasting app Windy.com
A beautiful sunset, captured using the fantastic weather forecasting app, Windy.com

In landscape photography, the importance of weather and indeed, the prediction of it plays a huge part in the overall success of capturing amazing shots! Over the years, I’ve used many different weather apps with a mixture of different results. Shockingly, in my experience, some of the apps I have paid for have been the worst for accurately forecasting the weather! There are a few good ones out there but one I have found overwhelmingly useful is the app; Windy.com!


Windy (previously known as Windyty) is an intuitive, detailed and highly accurate weather forecast ‘visualization’. The app brings you world leading forecasts from global models such as ECMWF and GFS, plus local models such as NEMS, AROME and ICON (Europe) and NAM (US). The app has an interactive map which shows particle animation (wind direction, speed) with 43 overlay options (wind, cloud, rain, temp, pressure etc) to choose from! It’s that good of an app it’s even used by pilots, paragliders and even governments to predict severe weather events! The app is known to be better than other apps even with their pro features and best of all, Windy.com is absolutely free and even without adds! If you're using a desktop computer, follow this link to find there desktop version of the app! www.windy.com


There is a premium option available for $18.49 annually or $2.99 monthly which enables detailed 1-hour data but in all honesty, I used the free version of the app for many years and the only reason I decided to upgrade was because I wanted to give my support to this app!


Windy.com has many other amazing features such as a built in live weather radar plus satellite, 16 altitude levels from surface to 13.5km (good for hiking), real-time observations from nearby weather stations and local webcams which are incredibly useful for landscape photographers wanting to check real-time weather conditions!


Overlays.


When you first open Windy.com, it can look a little intimidating, especially when you start to look at overlay options such as CO concentration and CAPE index. Fear not though, as us landscape photographers won’t really need to concern ourselves with such overlays. You can turn these on/off; enabling you to customise your display to be relevant to your needs!


The overlays most relevant to landscape photography are as follows;

- wind

- wind gusts

- rain thunder

- rain accumulation

- new snow

- snow depth

- thunderstorms

- temperature

- dew point

- humidity

- clouds - high clouds, medium clouds, low clouds

- fog

- cloud tops

- cloud base

- visibility


Be sure to select these options and feel free to uncheck all other options. Below I will go in to detail on some of the most important of the overlays.




Radar & Satellite

The weather radar shows live precipitation (rain) and developed thunderstorms whereas the satellite shows current and previous cloud cover data from EUMETSAT. This is a good way before heading out to a location to see an accurate visualisation of the overall cloud cover.


Wind

If you’re wanting those perfect reflection shots or just generally not wanting to be blown off the side of a cliff, then here is a good place to look! You’ll want to know what the sustained wind speed and direction is but then you'll also want to know the gust speeds. A lot of apps don't show gust speeds but they're probably more important than general wind speeds so far as photography is concerned. Having 2mph wind speeds would be perfect for reflection shots but if the gust speed is anything over 5-10 mph, you're chances of glassy reflections will be reduced. The map visually shows winds in two ways. The first uses colour to represent the speed/strength of the wind with a graph at the bottom of the phone app for reference. The second way is through what is called ‘particle animation’ which will show the direction of the winds using moving particles. You will find the option to turn this on/off underneath the ‘surface slider’. If you’re heading up mountains, you can use the surface slider to alter your altitude and get a forecast for that specific height.


Rain, Thunder

In this overlay you will find rain accumulation, new snow, snow depth and thunderstorms. If you select the 'rain,thunder' overlay, you will be able to go through each individual day, hour by hour showing you a visualisation of forecasted rainfall. It will also show any snow showers as little frost symbols if there is any snow forecasted. refer to the chart at the bottom of the phone app which will indicate by colour the amount of rainfall/snow in mm. 'New snow' and 'snow depth' are also useful overlays to look at for medium-long range forecasting of snow.


Temperature

Generally good for knowing in the Winter months whether you'll be needing two pairs of socks (at least in the UK). It's also good in the Winter months for predicting the presense of icy roads; rain in the day, or night followed by temperatures below 3 degrees can mean minor roads that haven't been gritted could be impassable. The 'dew point' is also important to take note of regarding ice on roads. Dew is basically the water droplets that occur when the surface temperature cools down to a temperature cooler than the air next to it which is when condensation occurs, known as the dew point. When you wake up and see your car covered in a layer of frost, it is because the surface temperature of your car fell below zero and the dew point temperature, causing the dew to turn to frost. Generally speaking, ice on the roads as a result of freezing dew doesn't happen often, as dew forms most easily on surfaces that do not conduct heat from the ground. However, with the longer nights of Winter causing colder temperatures for longer periods of time, if the surface temperature falls below the dew point, expect ice to form on roads without it raining the day and night beforehand.


Humidity is also worth taking a look at if you're wanting mist in your photographs. The higher the humidity, along with low winds and clear skies in conjunction with the dew point being around the same as surface temperature will all add to the chance of mists developing in and around rural valleys!


Clouds

Perhaps the most important of weather for landscape photographers is cloud! We have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it; too much will ruin a shot and not enough will be equally as disappointing. There are three levels of clouds known as low cloud, medium cloud and high cloud. They are found at different altitudes (height in the atmosphere) and have different characteristics.


Low Cloud - with a base below 6,500 ft (or 2000m), these clouds are the most associated with precipitation. They're often mistakenly perceived in a negative way by some landscape photographers, but it's these clouds that give us the drama, especially mixed with a clear gap of all clouds on the horizon. There are hundreds of different types of low cloud, each having different appearances in texture and shape. The only time that low cloud can really kill the game is when too much of it appears in general or on the horizon. This is commonly referred to as 'cloud block'.


Medium Cloud - Between 6500 - 23,000 ft you will find medium clouds. The most commonly seen medium cloud we see is Altostratus which unfortunately doesn't really have much character or texture to it and will often block out the sun. Even with a gap on the horizon, this cloud type lacks the texturised features needed for a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Altocumulus clouds on the other hand, although a bit of a rarity can produce some of the most vibrantly texturised clouds that you'll get to see. Usually, they have more of a richer tonal range as opposed to the high clouds that I'll be talking about next.


High Cloud - From 23,000 ft upwards, you'll find high cloud. This type of cloud will either make or break your shot, depending on which direction it comes from. High clouds form at the coldest and highest point of the troposphere where because it is so cold, the water almost always freezes and so these clouds generally consist of ice crystals or supercooled water droplets. This gives them a smooth, silky appearance most commonly seen as 'Cirrus' cloud. These clouds can catch colour, but sometimes their rather simple looking characteristics can be less than desired. Cirrocumulus cloud, also knows as 'mackerel sky' just like the medium cloud 'altocumulus' are the most desired high cloud for landscape photographers. They form ripples which resemble a honey comb and if they catch the first or last light of the day, they are absolutely breathtaking to witness! Usually, Cirrocumulus clouds form a head of a warm front (mass of warm air) and are a sign of miserable long periods of light rain.


Summary


To summarise, clouds play an important role in the look and feel of our landscape photography. Given the right positioning of certain clouds, they can produce fantastic colours and textures in the clouds themselves but they can also produce different types of light which when combined with a sun positioning low on the horizon, can light up the landscape in such a powerful and dramatic way. When the sun is lower on the horizon, it transmits light through the thickest part of the atmosphere. The light has to travel further through the atmosphere and in a nutshell, that is why we see a red colour in the light at sunrise or sunset.


At sunrise we want the East horizon to be clear of cloud and at sunset, we want the same for the West horizon. You have more leeway the higher the elevation of cloud is. So with high cloud, the gap can be further away. Low cloud locally can be a bit of a tricky situation.


Windy.com shows a visual representation of all 3 cloud levels, making it in my opinion, the best weather app for landscape photography!

The image above shows a good example of a good sunset forecast for the North West of England. Given the lack of medium and low cloud to the West coast, it would be highly likely that the high cloud would catch spectacular colour at sunset! All you have to know, is the direction of where the sun rises, or sets and you can predict for yourself the type of clouds that will be present in your images.


Different forecast models

As I mentioned earlier, Windy.com shows you forecasts from various world leading models. These are usually updated 2-3 times a day and you’ll find them located underneath the ‘display on map’ menu. In terms of reliability, especially in medium-long range forecasts, ECMWF and GFS have the best reputation. Personally, I have found ECMWF to have better accuracy over the GFS model, especially in terms of cloud cover. Local models such as ICON and AROME can sometimes be more accurate for predicting weather that is confined to mountainous areas. Generally, I’ve found ICON to be more consistent than AROME but overall accuracy has to be given to ECMWF. At the end of the day, a weather forecast is always a very good guess, based off useful data that is getting better and better every day. My rule of thumb is that if the models all present a similar forecast, then there’s a good chance that forecast will happen. If drastically different, then it’s a matter of anything could happen!



In Conclusion

Predicting weather for landscape photography can be a tricky task. With so many different forecasting apps out there, it can be a bit challenging trying to find one that works, or offers good value. Not only is windy.com a really smooth running app with a lot of data to look at, but it also shows the data that all the 'paid' apps use, for free! It may seem a bit tricky to get your head around at first, but I promise you, it's definitely worth taking the time to understand. Once you've done that, you'll never look back! I hope this article has been of great help to you in your quest to creating beautiful landscape photography!

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Simon Kelly
Simon Kelly
Nov 04, 2023

Brilliant. Will check it out. Thank you Daniel. Simon

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