It isn’t always possible to get great weather when are out photographing. If you’re on a once in a lifetime vacation and you encounter rainy weather, then you have a couple of choices. You can pack away your camera and forget about shooting until the weather improves, or you can find a creative approach to make the most of the inclement weather. I suggest you attempt the latter, and when you encounter wet weather, look for opportunities to create great photos notwithstanding the rain.
In fact, if you compare a day with dull gray skies to one where there is plenty of rain, you might actually find that the rainy day is preferable, as there are more things of interest happening.
There are, however, some things to consider when shooting in the rain. You will want to protect your gear from getting too wet, and you will want to know a bit about using your camera so that you can take great shots. Here are some tips for shooting on rainy days.
Preparing for rain
Invariably, at some time you will encounter rainy weather when you are out photographing. If you have a set of “go to” creative options that you have practiced, and you are familiar with, you can swing immediately into the mindset of taking advantage of the wet weather and capture some great shots. I’ll give you some ideas about what you can shoot.
You’ll also need to prepare yourself and your camera so you can stay as dry as possible. Wet weather shooting should still be fun, and staying dry is an important part of that.
What to shoot
When you encounter rainy weather you can try to minimize the appearance of the rain or capture it. If you try to avoid the rain you’ll often capture dull and uninteresting images. Whereas if you capture the rain in your photographs, you’ll likely achieve more creative and interesting images.
Shoot through windows
Here are two shots of Tower Bridge in London shot from a ferry on the Thames. For the first image I shot through a rain-splattered window and focused on the Tower Bridge. The result is, quite frankly, embarrassingly awful.
This second image is shot from the same ferry, through the same window, but this time I focused on the raindrops instead of the bridge. The Tower Bridge is still recognizable, and the overall image is much more creative and pleasing. When you next get a chance, try focusing on the raindrops on a window, and not what you see through it.
In this shot below , captured through a taxi window as it sped through Melbourne in a sudden downpour, the focus has landed somewhere between the window and the bike, and the result is a painterly image.
Where there is rain, there are generally puddles. These puddles will reflect anything (and everything) from car taillights to buildings, and from people to trees. Look out for interesting objects reflected in puddles.
Shoot water droplets
For a time after it has rained, raindrops will still cling to plants and other surfaces. Look for interesting objects dotted with raindrops.
Shoot the clouds
Before it rains you will typically see interesting formations of rain clouds. Sometimes they will enhance an otherwise spectacular landscape, and sometimes they are the subject a photo in and of themselves.
When there are gaps between rain clouds, you will often see shafts of sunlight piercing the clouds and highlighting small areas of a landscape or cityscape. This light is truly magical and it will give a sense of drama a scene. Keep an eye out for this light and shoot it quickly when you see it – because the clouds are moving, light that is there one minute, will be gone the next.
Some creative photography will require skills beyond using the automatic settings on your camera. For example when you opt to capture the raindrops on a window rather than what you see through the window you will need to experiment to find the best distance to stand from the window. Moving one or two steps closer or further from the window can totally change the image.
You will also probably need to manually focus your camera so you need to know how to set it to Manual focus mode. The reason for this is that most cameras in autofocus mode will try to focus on the distant building, and won’t focus on the raindrops on the window. Using manual focus will allow you to determine exactly what is in focus in your shot.
To capture raindrops on plants and other surfaces, you can use Aperture Priority mode and vary the aperture to achieve different results. A very large aperture (f/ 2.0 – f/5.6) will give you a shallow depth of field with only a small part of the scene in focus. A small aperture (f/8- f/13) will result in a much deeper depth of field, where more of the scene is in focus. It is up to you to decide how much of the image you want to be in focus – just be sure you know how to set your camera in Aperture Priority mode, what range of apertures are available for the lens you are using, and how to change the aperture setting.
Caring for you and your camera
When shooting in the rain you’ll want to keep your camera and yourself as dry as possible. I find it preferable to wear a raincoat with a hood because I find it impossible to juggle an umbrella and a camera at the same time. Whatever you choose, carry only what you need to have with you, so you have a better chance of keeping everything dry. It’s best to avoid changing lenses in wet weather, so stick with just one lens. Take care when moving from a cold, rainy situation into a warmer building. The heat combined with the damp will increase the humidity and you run the risk of condensation forming inside your camera lens.
Even if your camera has good weather seals, take care to protect it as best you can. There are plenty of good rain covers that you can purchase for your camera, or in a pinch, cover the camera and lens with a plastic bag, and cut a small opening for the lens. Duct tape or elastic bands will hold the bag securely on the camera.
Make sure to pack some clean, dry towels that you can use to wipe off your camera, but don’t use them on your lens – only use a lens cleaning cloth on the lens glass.
If your camera gets wet, dry it off as carefully as you can, and leave the lens open at full zoom until it’s thoroughly dry. A camera will dry best in a cool dry place, and you can use silica gel (an absorbent material sold in packets) in your camera bag to help avoid condensation forming.
Giving some thought as to creative options for capturing great photos in the rain, with some advanced preparation so that you and your camera stay dry, may turn the prospect of shooting on a rainy day from a sorry disappointment, into an exciting challenge.