When dark clouds roll in and rain starts falling, most of us run for cover, but many photographers run to grab their cameras. What's so special about rain? Sure, it can make things look ominous and dreary, but it can make familiar landscapes look unfamiliar in a variety of ways.
Not only does rain change the landscape, but it also changes the way people look. Think of those classic photos of mud-covered hippies dancing at Woodstock. Water can be the magic ingredient to transform a good photo into a great one. Street photographers love rainy days because it affects the way people dress and act. A candid photo of someone ducking for cover from the rain or hopping over a puddle can make an excellent photo; a shot of a businessman covering his head with a newspaper during a downpour can be priceless.
Rain photography isn't limited to falling water and wet people either; puddles, drips and reflections also provide great subject matter for interesting rain photography. For shutterbugs, the wonderful thing about rain is that it can transform a familiar scene or place into something completely different. It can also serve to clear the streets, giving cities a feeling of empty isolation. If you'd like to take a photo of a popular place with fewer people in the shot, shooting in the rain might be a good option [source: Photopoly].
Many photographers prefer overcast, cloudy days because the clouds diffuse sunlight, eliminating the very bright highlights and dark shadows at either end of the spectrum [source: Matt Greer Photography]. Rain can create interesting distortion, and it can affect lighting conditions in unusual ways. Of course, that isn't to say that rain photography is easy. The low light of an overcast day combined with the presence of water can create a unique set of challenges for any photographer, professional or amateur.
Read on for detailed information on how to capture some high-quality photos of rain.
The Challenges of Capturing Rain in Your Photos
Water and electronics don't mix, so the first and most obvious challenge presented by taking photos of the rain is staying dry and keeping your camera from getting too wet. A few drops of water on the outside of the camera body won't ruin it, but you certainly don't want to expose your camera to a downpour (unless, of course, you own an underwater unit).
From a more technical standpoint, rainy weather can present difficult lighting and metering conditions, which can make it tough for even experienced photographers to take a photo with sharp focus. To make matters worse, the auto settings on most newer digital cameras will try to compensate for the dark conditions, adding too much light and making it look much brighter than it actually is. That's not necessarily what you want if you're trying to capture a photo of rain, so it's probably a good idea to turn off those automatic settings -- and leave them off [source: Fotoflock].
Flash photography in the rain can be frustrating for inexperienced photographers as well, because water will create a reflective surface on everything it comes into contact with. Given the conditions, the built-in flash on most cameras will produce too much light, creating a bright glare on the water.
Another reason that rain can be very difficult to capture in photographs is that falling rain is a moving object, and it can tend to blur, creating a dull, grey effect that is often very different from how the naked eye perceives rain [source: Fotoflock]. That can be a good thing if, for example, you're in a complete downpour and want to show sheets of rain that look more like a moving solid than individual raindrops. But if you want those raindrops to stand out, you'll have to make some adjustments, and we'll tell you how in the next section.
How to Take Photos of Rain
Now that we know the challenges rain presents for photographers, let's talk about some techniques you can use to overcome them. As we mentioned in the previous section, the automatic settings on most digital cameras will over-correct for cloudy and rainy conditions, so you'll want to use the camera's manual settings to give you more control.
Falling rain can appear blurry in photographs, and if that's the effect you want -- or if you'd like to exaggerate the blurry effect -- try using the shutter speed priority mode. Adjusting your camera's shutter speed can control the exposure, making a photo brighter or darker. Decreasing the shutter speed will increase the blur more, making drops of rain look like lines.
In aperture priority mode, you can control both depth of field and the amount of light viewed by the camera. To capture photos of individual raindrops, try setting your camera to a very wide aperture (f/4 to f/1.4) and correct the lighting by adjusting the camera's ISO sensitivity.
To capture the sharpest photo possible, it's probably a good idea to bring a tripod to help keep the camera steady. Even then, you might want to bring some more light into the photo. For this, photographer Jim Richardson suggests using a very small amount of flash. Instead of using the camera's internal flash, get an external flash -- or speedlight -- and set it to one of the lowest settings, around -3.0 stops [source: National Geographic].
If you don't own a speedlight (or if you don't feel like pulling it out in the middle of a storm), try looking for other sources of natural and artificial backlighting. For example, streetlights can do a good job of highlighting rain. Shooting toward the light, but not directly into it, can help make individual raindrops stand out.
Equipment for Taking Photos in the Rain
For personal comfort, you'll probably want to don some rain gear before heading out for a day of shooting photos in the rain. But the sad fact is that nobody else will really care whether or not the photographer got wet -- so your real concern should be protecting your camera.
For an SLR (single-lens reflex) or DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, your first line of defense should be a lens hood, which is a 1- to 2-inch plastic device that attaches to the end of the lens. Hoods are used to increase contrast and protect against glare that very bright sun can produce, but they also help to keep water from touching and collecting on the end of the lens [source: Photopoly].
For more serious rain photography, the next form of protection you'll want to use is a custom rain cover. Hundreds of different capes, shades and covers exist to shield your expensive camera equipment from the elements, and you can pay anywhere from 20 bucks to several hundred dollars for them. Some rain covers allow just enough space to get your hands around the body of the camera, while others provide a larger hood that covers your head and shoulders. In a pinch (or if you don't feel like shelling out the money for a custom rain cover), you can jerry-rig your own cover out of a one-gallon plastic bag. Just cut a hole large enough for the end of the lens to poke through, and start shooting. Add a rubber band to keep the bag tight around the camera lens [source: Photography Bay].
Balancing an umbrella while controlling a camera with two hands is no easy task, but umbrellas are still a practical option for keeping both you and your camera dry. Although they may not be the sturdiest, clear plastic umbrellas can be effectively incorporated into your shots. For example, if you're having trouble working in heavy rain, shooting through the transparent plastic will give you an added layer of distortion, while allowing you to get the shot without putting your camera in danger.
Rain Photography Tips
We've talked about special tools and equipment that can help you take great photographs of rain, but not everyone owns the latest lens hood, rain cover, speedlight or even a tripod. The truth is: You don't have to be standing out in a storm in order to snap a good photo of rain. You could take it from inside the comfort of your home, as water beads and streams down a windowpane.
Cars can also be very useful to rain photographers because they have so many windows, and in them, you can keep your camera equipment dry and safe. You can sit in a car and take the time to establish and frame a shot through an open window (preferably one on the other side of the car). Rainwater tends to collect in small droplets on cars' skylight, which can create interesting distortion. And if you don't have a car, try ducking under whatever cover is available: awnings, overhangs, carports or any other architectural feature that will keep you and your camera protected [source: National Geographic].
When you're out in the field, pay attention to all the different ways water sits, flows and dances on various surfaces -- not just the stuff falling from the sky. Pooled water can of course be highly reflective, especially when it stands still. Try looking at puddles from a variety of angles in order to capture interesting reflections. Also keep an eye out for other effects of rain, like broken umbrellas discarded in the gutter [source: Fotoflock].
Rain is also excellent subject material for macro (close-up) photography. If you have a macro lens, focus on the point of contact where the raindrops land on a solid surface (like the leaves or the ground), or try taking a photo of still water droplets on a flower petal.
Keep reading for lots more information on rain photography.
- Gampat, Chris. "Tips for Shooting in Rain and Bad Weather." Photography Bay. 2009. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.photographybay.com/2009/10/18/4-tips-for-photography-in-rain-and-bad-weather/
- Greer, Matt. "Taking Photos in the Rain." Matt Greer Photography. 2006. (Dec. 16, 2010)http://mgreerphoto.blogspot.com/2006/10/shooting-in-rain.html
- Hassinen, Matti. "Protect Your Camera From Rain Using An Old Pair Of Rain Trousers." DIY Photography. 2010. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.diyphotography.net/protect-your-camera-from-rain-using-an-old-pair-of-rain-trousers
- Kukday, Neeraja. "How to: get stunning rain shots." Fotoflock by Epson. 2009. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.fotoflock.com/index.php/learn-photography/how-to/32-shoot-how-to/2801-how-to-get-stunning-rain-shots
- Richardson, Jim. "Taking Photos in the Rain." National Geographic. 2010. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-tips/taking-photos-in-rain-richardson/
- Valentin. "How to Take Great Photos in the Rain." Photopoly. 2010. (Dec. 15, 2010)http://www.photopoly.net/how-to-take-great-photos-in-the-rain/