Don’t let bad weather get the better of your creative intentions, embrace the rain and use it as a catalyst to capture unique images
Rain is often seen as a photographer’s worst enemy; water on lens front elements, expensive electronics and even the fact you might get wet yourself are just three reasons why you might want to avoid shooting in the rain. The thing is, lens hoods can help to keep the rain away from the front element, a rain cover will keep your camera safe and dry if it’s not weather resistant and a waterproof jacket and trousers will keep you dry. As the saying goes, "There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
So, rather than letting the rain dictate whether or not you can shoot, use it to your creative advantage. Whether you stay indoors to shoot still life, head out into the landscape in hope of a break in the cloud and great light, go out into the garden to shoot natural subjects after the rain has stopped or create your own rain with a hosepipe, wet weather isn’t the enemy of photography. Think of it as yet another creative opportunity that you can take advantage of.
1 Shoot through glass
Raindrops are a nightmare on your lens front element or filters because they create unsightly spots in different parts of the image. But when it comes to water droplets on glass, it’s a completely different story. Shooting through water-covered windows and bus stop glass allows you to capture images that sum up rainy days where people are looking out from the dry comfort of the indoors – we’ve all done it.
Another way to capture rain spots on glass, but with the freedom to move around and choose the scene behind the water droplets is to carry an A4 size sheet of clear Perspex. Allow this to get covered in rain spots and when you find a scene that you like, hold it around 25cm in front of the lens and autofocus on the droplets. Select an aperture around f/4 so the droplets are captured sharp but the scene behind is slightly out of focus.
2 Embrace the conditions
Being out and about shooting landscapes and cityscapes in the rain isn’t always the most appealing idea. But if you get even the smallest window of great light, you can be rewarded with the most dramatic conditions you’ve ever seen. All it takes is a small break in the cloud and the landscape can be bathed in beams of light set against the moody landscape. And if shooting around golden hour, the colourful light can be sublime.
When shooting landscapes and cityscapes in the rain, make sure you have a rain cover over your camera and lens, and a microfibre cloth over your filters to keep them dry and spot-free. You can even attach an umbrella to your tripod using a clamp to keep everything dry, but just make sure the wind doesn’t knock it over. Once set up in your desired location, simply wait for that brief moment when everything comes together and enjoy the dramatic light as it unfolds.
3 Capture indoor still life
If you really can’t face heading out into the rain, it’s certainly not for everyone, there are plenty of opportunities for creative still life around the house. A good starting point is always the kitchen where utensils, cutlery, fruit, vegetables and spices can make excellent still life and close-up subjects. What’s more, floor tiles and work surfaces can provide the perfect background for intricate compositions.
When shooting home or kitchen-based still life, keep your compositions as simple as possible to avoid unnecessary clutter in images. Single objects, spoons filled with berries or spices of different colours, for instance, and working to the rule of three will help you to capture eye-catching images. The rule of three simply suggests, and it’s true, that three objects are more aesthetically pleasing and visually balanced than two or four.
4 Focus on reflections
Night or day, wet pavements and puddles will naturally pick up reflections of their surroundings and make for fantastic photo opportunities. This kind of goes against what you’re used to because as photographers we most often keep our heads up looking for the next subject or composition in the wider scene. But on wet days, looking down at the ground can be just as fruitful.
The two main approaches are to look for mirror-perfect reflections in puddles or drenched pavements or to take a more abstract approach focusing on colours and shapes. Both produce interesting images, so you’re spoilt for choice. Plus, shooting at night when it’s wet further extends the creative possibilities as artificial lights are reflected on wet surfaces and can be captured as abstracts or as part of a wider scenic shot.
5 Take advantage of water droplets
When the rain has stopped it can be the perfect time to head out into the garden to capture close-up images of plants, flowers, leaves and grass that will be naturally glistening with water droplets. It is possible to create water droplets yourself, but it’s rarely quite the same as those that form naturally during a shower.
Wait until the rain has stopped and then head out into the garden, ideally with a macro lens to allow you to get up close to natural subjects. If you don’t have a macro lens, try using a kit lens because these typically have a minimum focusing distance of 20-25cm. So, if you zoom into the longest focal length of 50-55mm, you can get surprisingly close to small subjects, although not as close as with a macro lens.
6 Head for the street
With street photography, the most interesting results can often come from the two extremes of weather: bright sunshine and rain. And if you’re lucky enough two experience the two together, the results can be incredibly dramatic. For street photography, bad weather is good weather, so there’s no excuse not to head out to your local town or city to see what opportunities await.
People with hunched up shoulders and heads down, umbrellas and simply heavy rain cutting through the scene are just a few of the opportunities you can enjoy when it’s raining. To keep dry yourself, you can stand in doorways or use an umbrella to keep the rain away from the front element of the lens. The advantage of using an umbrella is that although you have to shoot one-handed, you can move around freely.
7 Make it rain
This may be a curveball idea, but it works extremely well when you would actually like rain; when there’s no rain, it’s quite easy to create your own using a hosepipe or watering can. Creating your own rain can work well because you can choose the light conditions to shoot in, and with control over the volume of water, you can select the most appropriate flow for the subject you’re shooting.
Flowers are typically the most popular subject for ‘homemade’ rain, but you can even shoot portraits using an umbrella to frame your model and accentuate the water droplets. Or you can simply go for the drenched approach where the model simply gets soaked. Creating rain is a simple and controllable way to a new dimension to your images on dry days.
Tip: Use a rain cover
When shooting in the rain, even if you’re using a water-resistant camera and lens, it can pay to use a rain cover to keep your camera and lens dry. This is simply so that you don’t have to dry it before you put it back into your camera bag. If you don’t have a rain cover, an alternative is to wrap a large microfibre cloth around your camera and lens, or even use a disposable shower cap as a rain cover.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles