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Embrace the Rain

March 1, 2010

We left Moab during a snowstorm, headed south to Phoenix to enjoy warmer weather and blue skies ideal for hiking.  The forecast wasn’t looking good.  Rain on Friday.  Rain on Saturday.  Rain on Sunday and Monday, finally clearing overnight with abundant sunshine on Tuesday.  Still, I hoped the weatherman was wrong as he commonly is half the time.  Of course, he was right and the rain came down in buckets – flash floods and all.

Photographers don’t usually celebrate rain.  Sure, it nourishes the wildflowers and fills desert potholes that catch ephemeral reflections but when you have only 6 days at a location, you’d just as soon forego torrential downpours.  No matter how much we pray to the almighty Weather Gods we’re stuck with what we’re given.  Thus, we have a choice.  We can bitch and moan about the weather, or we can embrace it and make images that would be impossible under any other conditions.  Not one to bitch and moan a whole lot I say, “Embrace the rain!”

Photographing in the rain presents a series of challenges you must overcome.  Some are technical (keeping things dry) and some are creative (using flat light to your advantage).  Here are some tips to help you make the most of a rainy day.  Or four.  First I’ll cover the technical details, then I’ll discuss some creative strategies.

  • Let’s start with an obvious one – keeping your gear dry.  In reality, you aren’t going to keep your camera and lens dry.  Try as you might, things are going to get wet.  You can minimize the exposure by using an umbrella to ward off the rain while you’re composing an image.  I carry a couple hotel room shower caps that fit perfectly over the camera and most wide angle to moderate lenses.  This works well to keep it dry if an umbrella isn’t available.  Slightly more ghetto but still effective is a plastic shopping bag.  These tend to blow off the camera when it’s breezy whereas the elastic on a shower cap keeps it in place.
  • Keep your lens hood attached as it will help protect the front element from errant raindrops.  You should also keep the lens cap on until absolutely necessary to remove it.
  • Microfiber cloths are great for removing water drops from the glass.  Store a couple of them in your camera bag and use liberally.
  • When your camera and lens do get wet you should dry them off as quickly as possible.  Yes, this even applies to the “pro” cameras with all their fancy weather sealing.  Keep a hand towel in your car for this purpose.  Pay special attention to areas where water droplets could seep into the body of your camera, i.e. buttons, dials, the lens mount, etc.
  • Don’t forget to wipe down your tripod.  As you collapse the legs some water may find it’s way into the inner workings of the leg locks.  This has been known to cause them to seize.  Keep them dry and this is less likely to happen.  I use a Gitzo tripod with twist locks, which like to get really sticky at times.  I combat this by only tightening them just enough to prevent the leg sections from extending on their own when the tripod is not in use.

Okay, let’s move on to the more difficult aspect of photographing in the rain – finding your creative mojo.

  • Dreary weather usually produces dreary light.  Contrast is low, skies are gray and that sweet, warm light so beloved by photographers is nowhere to be found.  Use these attributes to your advantage by photographing more intimate scenes.  Look for patterns and textures or contrasting elements such as a light colored cholla in front of a dark colored cliff.  The diffused light will allow every detail to stand out without any harsh shadows blocking up the scene.
  • Think monochrome.  The flat light common on rainy days usually subdues colors.  Why fight it?  Look for compositions that don’t rely on strong color.  Rather, find a scene that has graphic impact, photograph it and convert it to black and white in post-processing.
  • If you are lucky enough to be in the right place as a storm moves in you can capture dynamic images of the dark clouds sweeping across the landscape.  Look for compositions with multiple ridges that transition from light to dark as storm clouds and rain quickly pass over them.
  • Even the worst storms end.  Be there when that happens and you’re virtually guaranteed opportunities to create powerful images.  As storm clouds break rays of sunlight shoot through and spotlight the landscape.  Those boring grey skies may quickly become dramatic with blue sky peeking out from behind puffy white clouds.
  • This last point is more of a warning than a tip.  Really, I shouldn’t even have to say it but I’m going to any way.  If you see lightning or hear thunder, it’s up to you to decide whether to continue standing there with your camera atop a lightning rod.  My recommendation: pack it in.

See, I told you there was no reason to put away your camera when the rain starts to fall!  Embrace it and you might just be surprised at what you’ll capture.

Share your tips for shooting in foul weather and/or link to images you made in the rain.  Your tip might just help someone out!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2010 3:33 pm

    LOL, Bret – so you’re saying I’m “ghetto” then, huh?

    I have to admit I’ve never deliberately gone out in the rain – although I’ve never been on a trip where it poured for days, either. (I’ve just jinxed my next trip, haven’t I?!) I’m guessing if it lasted a day or two I’d probably stay in town, grinding my teeth, and then eventually do what you did and say the heck with it, I’m shooting!

    I have, however, shot in snowfall. With the aforementioned ghetto accessory (I’m still snickering), the plastic bag. It actually worked pretty darn well, although I agree the microfiber cloths are a must; for me it wasn’t so much the lens that got a few drops, but the back of the camera (probably from my hands). This happened last fall when I was up in Yellowstone / the Tetons: I was driving back down to Jackson after being in Yellowstone, and the day I drove down was the first snowfall of the season. There was something a little bit magical about that, and as concerned as I was about the roads, I just had to stop.

    One of these days (when fuel efficiency is no longer a concern because they build vehicles that run on an alternate power source!) I gotta get me a 4WD shooting buggy.

  2. robertmoreno permalink
    March 2, 2010 11:45 am

    Lmao! Shower caps? Best photography tip ever!

    One day I’ll give rain photography a try. Maybe I’ll put a black garbage bag over my body with 2 holes for my eyes and camera. Ghetto fab indeed!

  3. Bill Brennan permalink
    March 2, 2010 2:34 pm

    Bret, thanks for the shower cap idea to supplement my “ghetto gear”; and your thoughts about shifting to BW.

    Will be visiting Tucson for awhile longer; and hoping for a good wildflower season and the start of cactus flowering in a few weeks.

    Bill Brennan

  4. March 2, 2010 7:26 pm

    Great stuff Bret and certainly some tips I use. When I check into a hotel room one of the first things I look for is a shower cap and if there is one supplied that pooch goes into the camera bag immediately.

    The umbrella idea is one I use too and if you trot down to Wal Mart this spring you can find one in the garden section that’s got a built in clamp and will attach to your tripod for hands free rain protection.

    Finally, I’m big on multipurpose stuff and a white garbage bag fills the bill. If it’s nasty weather you can protect your gear with it. If the weather is nice it makes a great reflector for filling in shadows for wildflower shots and also makes a wonderful light tent when paired with a couple of broken tent pole sections if you want to shoot macro stuff in bright sunlight. Finally, it can be used to it’s life’s ambition and pack out your trash from a hike. A truly multipurpose tool.

  5. March 23, 2010 7:24 am

    Have you got an rss feed? I can’t find the icon can you give me the link to subscribe to, thanks.

    • April 1, 2010 12:55 pm

      I’m honestly not sure if I’ve got an RSS feed or not. I know nothing when it comes to building sites, coding, etc. I do have a link in the right column to subscribe. Might be an RSS feed link? Sorry I’m not more help. Kind of an idiot when it comes to that stuff!


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