Using rain in images

Why on earth would you want to photograph in the rain? Well, from a wildlife perspective it gives atmosphere to wildlife images and opportunities often occur after the rain too that are worth looking out for too. In landscape photography that moment of dark threatening clouds will have a lot more impact than a sunny afternoon ‘chocolate-box’ scene. Cameras and water don’t mix very well. Some professional cameras have ‘waterproofing’ but these cameras just have better rubber seals around all the buttons and doors so they are better at keeping the wetness out but they are still not invincible when it comes to withstanding heavy rain.

For a wildlife photographer an umbrella is not really an option but it can be for a landscape photographer when working from a tripod. Yes, they’re something else to carry and a bit of a faff but they will keep you and the camera dry. If you take this route then ALWAYS opt for a stormproof brolly. This isn’t about keep the rain out but making sure the brolly doesn’t turn inside out if the wind picks up. Storm brollies have reinforced spokes to prevent this from happening.

For the non-brolly users, the biggest issue you will face is trying to keep the front element dry, as rain has a knack of sneaking in and soaking it, even with the large and deep front hoods of a long lens. The obvious first thing to do is to position yourself so that you are not shooting into the rain. If shooting from a vehicle, raise your window up so that you can angle down slightly on the subject, not level and certainly not up! This will cause the top of the lens hood to stick out a little further, which may be enough to stop the splashes.

To keep your camera protected there are lots of options from purpose-built ones, such as those from LensCoat (below) to using homemade ones or even throwing a microfibre towel over your kit.

Rain techniques for wildlife

Think background: For rain images to work you have to be able to see the rain! It sounds completely obvious but always try to consider the background carefully when positioning and never use the sky as a backdrop as you simply won’t see the rain. Keep your backgrounds simple too by avoiding clutter and excessive detail by shooting with a low aperture.

Think Shutter Speed: There are two different effects you can get with raindrops and it depends entirely on the shutter speed that you use. If you use 1/125th second or slower then you will increasingly elongate the raindrops. Of course the converse is that shooting above 1/125th will increasingly freeze the raindrops to be more defined as dots. It all depends on what you want to achieve in the final shot.

Think Processing and Contrast: Rain can be very subtle in an image and it’s rare that any photo featuring rain can be just presented as taken. It will need to be processed to bring out the best in the rain. This usually involves adding much extra contrast to the shot, which is a fine line as you can really ruin it if you overdo it!

Monochrome conversions work really well with rain for two reasons. The first is that the contrast is really boosted and the rain stands out. The second is that in these weather conditions the light is generally very dull and the white balance very strange. Converting to monochrome removes all these colour limitations and adds some more atmosphere too.

Think Compression and aperture: It’s a fact that this type image works best when shooting with a long telephoto lenses. This is because of the compression effect that they provide. This means that you cannot really shoot ‘obvious’ rain with a wide angle as the effect won’t really be seen. You really need a minimum of 300mm to be able to do rain justice. More is even better.

1/160sec shutter speed has resulted in long drops of rain but it needed a steady hand with the telephoto lens and a static lion!
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