Since I’m teaching a couple rain or shine nature photography workshops in the next few months I thought I’d go ahead and post some information about shooting in the rain.
First, unless it’s severe weather you should never be afraid to go photograph in the rain. Rain makes for a great subject itself and it makes most other subjects look amazing.
In movie making and for TV shows they often bring in trucks full of water that wet the street in order to make it look like it just rained especially for night shots. How often do you see a character walking down a street at night that doesn’t at least have a bunch of puddles? Not too often. Part of this is because the road would otherwise appear black in old black and white films but also because the reflection of street lights, neon signs, and whatever other light source is around makes the wet street so much more interesting than a dry street.
So rain is the photographers friend (as long as the photographer is dressed appropriately) and while wedding photographers are no fans of rain they’re probably the exception. Sports photography can be a lot more dramatic, nature photography clearly benefits, and even for well financed still photo shoots you’ll often see that same wet pavement. Look at advertisements for everything from cars to sneakers for examples.
While there are optimal levels of rain for different forms of photography rain is hardly ever a reason to pack up your camera. Rain can add a new dimension to your photos.
Rain and Cameras Don’t Mix … or do they?
No. they don’t.
Photography and rain = awesome. Camera and rain = oh crap.
So how do we get one without the other?
You don’t want to get your camera wet and we all know that those waterproof underwater camera cases are incredibly expensive. So what can you do to keep your gear clean and dry while still getting to photograph in the rain?
You can stand under an overhang but that limits your composition. You can carry an umbrella (and hire an assistant to hold it while you work). But today we have a number of better choices like these:
These are Rain Capes or Rain Sleeves. The image to the left is from OP/TECH USA who makes them. You can get a set of two from B & H Photography for as little as $6.50 (at time of publishing). Here is a link to the B & H page that has them and a number of other choices: B & H link.
These sleeves do a pretty good job. I’ve used them in the past for a number of outdoor events as well as shooting nature. They’re small and travel well too – it’s worth buying a set or two sets to keep with you at all times.
Before I started to use these I would wrap my cameras and lenses in grocery bags which works surprisingly well in a pinch but you’ve got to be very careful with grocery bags because that isn’t what they’re designed for so you might find a leak here or there. If the rain is light then it shouldn’t matter but if you’re shooting a football game and spending nearly 3 hours in a downpour then it might.
The Rewards of Rain Photography
Rain usually drives the lesser photographer away as well as nearly everyone else so shooting in the rain can be calming, relaxing, almost meditative. If you’re shooting nature photos then it’s often just you and the subject. If you are hoping to shoot animals a light rain makes it more likely that you’ll find them. The less humans that are around the more likely the wildlife is to be out and about. Heavy rains though will drive them away.
Rain typically brings with it an overcast sky which is beneficial to plant photography. Harsh light is hard to photograph in so there are tricks (such as using diffusers) but when you can take advantage of natures own diffuser why not? Rain also tends to make plants perk up, it refreshes their colors and can, as the picture above demonstrates, add focus to a photo. Those broad leaves would be nice without the drops but they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to look at if it were not for those rain drops balancing on them, magnifying the veins in the leaves and adding that beautiful silver-like fleck.
So the next time that you plan on going out to photograph and you see rain in the forecast don’t put the camera away – just grab your rain gear and go!
use your brain in the rain
Clearly you’ve got to be smart when photographing in the rain and it should go without saying but some folks need to be told the following. Photographing in the rain is awesome but always be aware of changes in the weather, of the environment that you’re shooting in, and your own limitations. Rain is good, lightening is bad, tornadoes are really bad. While lightening is pretty to photograph it should be done from a safe distance. If you want to photograph a tornado then you’re just crazy and all I can say is that I hope you’re being paid to do so and that you’ve got great insurance on yourself and your gear.
Don’t just be aware of what is up but also watch what is down. Rain can make surfaces slick. It can also make hillsides unstable – test the ground before you walk on anything that might not be safe. Wet ground can not only slide or cause you to slide but it can also cause you to sink so be aware of that as well. If you’re in an ecologically delicate area be aware that where you’re standing or walking. It’s easy to compact dirt when it’s dry but it’s even easier to do so when it’s wet. You might be causing more damage than you know.