Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion…but when the rain starts pouring, even the bravest of photographers runs and hides. Nothing can be more miserable than working in the rain. Or so we let everyone think!
As long time residents of Washington state, if we let the rain stop USA, we’d never get out to take pictures. We’ve become such experts, we’ve even categorized the different types of rain: Drip, Drizzle, Drops and Drool. Drool is one of the few rains that will drive us indoors. It’s the kind that pours so hard, there’s no seeing past the end of your lens. When it lets up, the possibilities are endless.
Rain hits everywhere at any season. It doesn’t snow in Florida. It does in Alaska. Yet it rains in both. Rain offers a variety of weather related dramatic skies such as crepuscular rays and dark brooding clouds. It also offers the potential for creative work with raindrops, reflections in puddles, drips, streams, and even creates a soft mist, great for creating soft and mysterious scenics. Working in the rain opens a door instead of closing one. Or opens an umbrella, as the case may be.
Nature photographers like Bruce Heinemann declare that “bad weather is good weather.” For Bruce, there is nothing like the forecast of rain to send him out in his van looking for great scenic opportunities. Let’s explore how to be “singing in the rain.”
What to Photograph in the Rain
Rain creates dramatic skies and soft romantic mists when photographing scenics, but don’t forget about the smaller subjects. Puddles left by a recent rain create opportunities to capture reflections with unusual perspectives. Many plants are designed to hold water on their leaves or petals, creating interesting textures. Look around and see the possibilities in the little jewel drops of rain left after a shower.
- Dramatic skies
- Stormy skies create dramatic vistas for scenics and backgrounds. Whether or not you’re after lightning strikes, just the incredible cloud formations and effects make for exciting images.
- Dramatic light
- Before, during, and after a storm the light can change every few seconds. You have to act quickly and do some planning and anticipating, and sometimes you just get lucky, but there is wonderful light spread around during storms.
- Patterns and textures
- Look all around you for the patterns and textures left by the rain. Patterns of water droplets striking the surface of a pond or adding texture to a close-up of a flower can make wonderful subjects.
- Reflections are fun to work with as they can become mirrors for your subjects or blurs of dancing colors. Look for interesting ways to capture reflections of different things from different perspectives.
- A natural lens
- A droplet of water hanging off a leaf becomes an upside-down magnifying glass. Get close and photograph the world through it, using it as a second lens.
When working in the rain, the main challenge is to keep dry. Some cameras quit working when they get damp, while the intense cold shuts down the batteries of most cameras very quickly. Condensation forms not only inside the camera but on the insides of the lenses. There have been many cases of mold and fungus growing inside lenses. A few precautions can keep you singing in the rain.
- Keeping the wet out
- Rain and wind are just waiting to get into your camera when you change film or lenses. Use your body as a shield in addition to covering the camera to prevent water and blowing dust from getting inside. Remove sand and dust from the camera with a blower ball and a soft camera brush. If water gets into the film compartment, it can cause distortion on the film and may not process evenly. In extreme rain and wind conditions we will change film inside of a waterproof bag, often just a large garbage sack.
- Rain Hoods
- There are many commercial rain hoods to fit over your camera, or you can make your own. You don’t have to get fancy. We’ve used everything, including big trash bags held on with rubber bands or duct tape.
- If temperatures drop below freezing, water in tripod joints and camera and lens parts can freeze and cause damage. Beware leaving a wet tripod outside or in a car overnight. Choose a water resistant camera bag to keep your equipment dry. Some photo backpacks even have a built-in rain cover that can be secured quickly.
- Towel off
- When you get back inside your vehicle or under cover, take a moment to dry off the camera with a towel, preventing water from seeping inside.
- Waterproof Camera
- There are few cameras on the market that are totally water “proof”. Other than Nikonos and similar specifically waterproof cameras, few are completely waterproof. The camera-to-lens junction and the focusing rings are problem areas where water can get in. Take extra precautions to keep the camera covered as much as possible.
- Film Flops
- Keep your film in a nearby pocket to make changes quickly. Keep your film in its waterproof canister until ready to use. With your back to the wind, have the new roll in hand and ready to insert. Tilting the camera’s film compartment down, out of the incoming rain, open the back, pop out the spent roll, insert the new, and in five seconds or less, you’re done, protected from the wet.
- Shower Caps
- Shower caps fit right over the camera body and most lenses under 200mm. They keep your equipment protected from the rain and the elastic holds them in place. They work fine for the times between shots when you need maximum protection.
- When you are struggling with rain over several hours or days, we highly recommend using protective filters on your lenses to avoid constant wiping of the expensive glass, increasing the chances of scratching or just wearing the protective coating down.
- Lens Shade
- Use a lens shade to keep the front glass element dry and free of water spots. Make sure it’s deep enough to keep water off and not vignette at the widest focal length of the lens. Even with the best cover, take a moment to check the lens glass for drops of water that can spoil an image. This becomes very important with wide angle lenses, since their hoods are less protective and they have a larger depth of field. That stray water droplet can show right up in your lovely scenic.