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How to Photograph in the Rain

When it starts to rain, good photographers head out to take pictures

While many novice photographers head inside when the rain begins, savvy photographers will head right out into it—and land some stunning photos. Taking photos in the rain might seem counter-intuitive, but rain can transform an annoyingly familiar scene into one fresh and full of opportunity. In fact, the more extreme the rain, the more drama you can capture. You just need to know how to go about it. Here are a few tips to get you started.

How to Keep Your Camera Dry

Obviously, the first thing we have to deal with in the with rain is keeping your camera dry. We all know that electronics and water don’t mix, and no one wants to risk having their expensive camera destroyed. That being said, unless you’re in a hurricane, keeping your camera dry is actually easier than you might think. You just need to be prepared.

What You’ll Need:

A waterproof camera bag. This is a good investment for any outdoor or travel photographer, whether you plan to be shooting in the rain or not. 

A jacket for your camera. This can be as simple as a plastic bag that fits over your camera, or as fancy as a “storm jacket.” While plastic bags are easier to work the controls through, they’re often quite unwieldy, especially when putting them on or taking them off. Storm jackets, on the other hand, are designed to fit the shape of your camera. The most affordable range from $30-$60, and believe it or not, your camera will probably stay drier than you. They’re also compact, easy to pack, and protect from dirt and dust as well. 

A lens hood. Lens hoods give that extra little bit of protection from drips, splatter, and wind-driven rain.

An umbrella. While this will be obvious to some, if you’re from the Pacific Northwest (where there’s a cultural anathema against umbrellas) or are a wilderness photographer, this might seem like a strange thing to carry along. Yet rest assured, an umbrella can make a huge difference in being able to photograph in inclement weather, especially if you have a friend to hold it for you. If nothing else, you can place it over your camera bag (if it’s not fully waterproof) while you’re taking your shots.

How to Capture Rain

The second challenge when shooting in the rain is how to capture the rain itself. Without the right settings and lighting, rain will often look dull, gray, and often times nearly invisible.

Choosing the Subject

The sky is the limit as to subjects for rain photography, but some subjects work better than others. For example, unless it’s pouring or your subject is already backlit, it’ll be hard to see the rain. That’s when you can look to puddles and other water surfaces. With enough light, the reflections and color saturation will offer up a whole host of creative opportunities. If you’re shooting street photography, look for the moments where people are reacting to the rain. If you can capture the emotion—whether stoic determination, child-like joy, or the dread of getting wet, you’ll have a great photo.

Settings

For most shots, you’ll probably want more than just the subject in focus. Getting everything from the background to the rain itself in focus can really look amazing, and that means shooting with a deeper depth of field. Try starting out with f/8 and work your way up to a tighter aperture from there. 

Unless you’re going for a misty effect, you’ll also need a fairly quick shutter speed—1/250 sec or higher. With the smaller aperture, this might mean having to bump up the ISO, but that’s ok. It’s better to have a bit of noise in a stellar photo than to lose the shot entirely.

Lighting

Without interesting lighting, your rain shots are likely to turn out flat and gray. In landscapes, that means look for storms that have light breaks. For street shots, look for everything from car lights, neon signs, and light streaming out of windows—all of these can make for some amazing shots. If you arrange your scene so that the subject (and rain) is backlit, you’ll be more likely to capture the rain itself in the shot. The main rule of thumb is to shoot as directly as you can towards the light source while avoiding overpowering your exposure. (Your lens hood can come quite in handy here.)

Photo courtesy of Steve Halama

If you want the raindrops to really show up, you can also try using a bit of flash. Not a bright flash—a -2 or -3 will do just fine. Alternatively, use an off-camera flash or even a flashlight off to the side to create some side-light for the rain.

Just remember, there’s really no “bad” weather in photography—just challenges laced with opportunity. Master the challenges of rain and a whole world of opportunity will open up for you.

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