Rain Photography

Rain Photography

Backlit raindrops on a lonely man illustrating rain photography
Rain Photography

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I’m siiiiiiinging in the rain. Siiiinging in the rain. What a gloooorious feeling, I’m hap……oh….never mind.

Well, this article is not about 50s musicals, nor singing. It’s about photographing in the rain, and how I made the image at the top.

Photographing in the rain is a topic that has many a photographer deathly afraid.

-What if I ruin my gear?

…or even worse…

-What if I get WET?!?!

Yes, there is a serious chance of both, but read on and I’ll provide some tips on what to think about when photographing in the rain and how I made the image at the top of this article.

 

Why take pictures in the rain?

Yes, why go through all the trouble that comes with dragging yourself and your gear out in harsh weather?

Well.

You can easily add a different feel to a scene by shooting it in the rain.

If you are willing to do something most people don’t, you may get opportunities most people won’t.

And most people usually run for cover when it starts raining.

But if you can defy your fear of falling water there is a chance of a great reward in the end in the form of some great images.

So, what is so special about photographing in the rain then?

Bad weather equals drama.

Drama as in long exposures of dark clouds moving.

The light changing rapidly across the landscape.

Capturing backlit raindrops.

You might even get a lightning strike (hopefully just an image of it).

It’s all about the angle of the light and how the displays the raindrops in the image.

If you’re out in the rain shooting and most of the light in the scene comes from behind you (front light), the raindrops would hardly show up at all.

If you shoot in a backlit (main light coming towards the camera) situation however, the raindrops will register as bright dots or streaks depending on the type of light and shutter speed.

These streaks are what makes photographing in the rain worthwhile. This display of water drops can greatly add to the feel and mood of a scene.

 

Planning this rainy photoshoot

Planning ahead is an important part of any serious photoshoot, but even more so when doing one in the rain.

You don’t want to get your gear wet (unless you have waterproof gear which is usually more expensive), and you would want to keep yourself dry as well. Having the right clothes and taking the right precautions can make photographing in the rain an enjoyable experience although the weather isn’t.

 

The list of gear I used in this photoshoot:

Pentax K5 camera body.

Pentax smc FA 50mm 1.4 lens

Manfrotto 055 XPROB Tripod

Manfrotto 488 RC2 ballhead (This link is for the new replacement , the 498)

2 Pentax AF540FGZ flashes and a Yongnuo YN560-III flash

3 No-brand light stands (easily found on eBay)

 

So, what did I do to plan for this photoshoot in the rain?

Well, I had been out location scouting beforehand. I knew that this place was where I wanted to shoot this type of picture. Knowing the location beforehand is a real advantage when you want to work fast and efficiently (and you really want to when it’s dark and raining).
A good advice is to bring a notebook and make notes of interesting locations you pass even when doing something completely different. Think about how that location might look at a different time of day, time of year or in different types of weather.

Then it was just a matter of waiting for the right type of weather(rain) to occur at the right time of day(night).

Be prepared (Organized)

When the time came for me to go shooting I had made a checklist of what gear to bring and packed my truck accordingly. There’s nothing worse than being on location (in the rain) and realizing that you don’t have the remote for your camera. Or the raincoat. Or a light stand. Be organized. It pays. Especially when shooting in harsh conditions, or in the dark.

After arriving on the scene of the photoshoot it was raining cats and dogs so I knew I had to be careful when taking the gear out of the car as it would get instantly wet unless I did something to protect it.

DIY raincoats for my flashes

For my speed lights (aka. flash, speed lite, flashgun) I covered them with transparent freezer bags and fastened them with tape around the light stand. I know this is a really DIY thing, but it works.

What I didn’t think of at the time though was that bags were not long enough to cover the top of the light stands. This lead to water getting into the pipes of the stands. This water stayed there for weeks. I finally had to pick apart each section of the stands to dry the water out.

I used a thin type of freezer bags allowing me to easily operate the buttons on the back of the flashes. Keeping the speed lights dry is especially important as high voltage builds inside them as they charge so any water intrusion could prove fatal to them. Keep in mind though that covering your speed lights in plastic for a long time in wet or cold conditions may lead to condensation inside and the purpose of the bag is defeated.

Final setup for my rainy photoshoot

Setting up my camera and tripod

Then it was time to set up my gear for the shot. I did not know exactly how the lights would work against the raindrops, so I knew there would be some trial and error. I set up my camera on a tripod and framed the shot I wanted with my 50mm lens. My camera and lens were covered by a Stormjacket rain cover. Actually, my Pentax camera bodies are waterproof, but I currently do not have any waterproof lenses to go with them, so better safe than sorry.

Focusing my camera

I used my headlamp to light up a spot on the ground where I knew I would be standing during the shot and adjusted my focus for that spot. I was thinking of using one of my radio triggers to trigger the camera, but since I was going to pose myself I decided not to have anything to hold on to that might show up in the images. Instead I decided to use my cameras interval shooting function. More on that in a bit.

A test shot of the setup of the rainy photoshoot
A test shot during setup

Setting up the speedlights and light stands

I decided to use all 3 of my speed lights to light up as much of the rain as possible.

I put them on the light stands facing towards the camera position. I tried setting the speed lights up in various positions, but having them all inside the frame lead to some insane lens flare.

In the final image I put one Speedlight behind the tree on camera left (anything you can hide on set keeps you from doing extensive photoshop work later). Although I tried my best to hide the light stand behind the tree, I discovered later that one of the legs of the light stand showed to the left behind the tree and I had to clone it out in photoshop.

I put one Speedlight on a light stand to camera right. I had nothing to hide this behind so I put it just outside the frame.

The last Speedlight I put on a stand just behind the position where I was going to be posing. I knew I had to remove this in Photoshop later.

After positioning all the lights the way I wanted I was ready to start shooting.

And get really wet.

Remember I said it was raining?

 

Posing in the rain and getting the shot

During all this setup time it had been pouring down, but I had been wearing my raincoat so I kept dry.

Now the time had come to pose in the right clothes for the shot, so I had to lose the raincoat.

To be able to focus on the posing I used my camera’s interval shooting function.

I set it to take 20 images, 10 seconds apart, and to start 2 minutes from the time I pushed the shutter button. This allowed me some time to get ready before the camera started taking pictures.

I did a few of these sequences before the clothes I was wearing got too wet.

I tried to let the water pour from the hat just in time with the images being taken. I knew this would have been a cool effect, but I didn’t succeed too well at this.

As I was happy with at least some of the images in these sequences I decided that I had had enough rain for one night.

A test shot just before posing in the rainA test shot just before posing in the rain

Lightpainting the foreground

Still there were some images I knew I had to get. I knew this would be a composite image consisting of both ambient and artificial lighting.

And the foreground needed some light as well.

By the position my lights were in they did not light up the foreground very much so I knew I had to fill that in somehow.

I took one of the flashes and while setting off the camera for another round of interval shooting I walked around the scene pointing the flash in different directions lighting up the foreground.

Contrary to a normal single image lightpainting shoot I did not mind pointing the flash towards the camera as I knew I would be using several images to composite the final one, and the showing of the flash-heads could easily be removed in Photoshop.

The priority was to get enough coverage of even light around the scene.

Lightpainting the foreground
Lightpainting the foreground

Camera on lockdown

What was extremely important though and is essential to this type of shoot where you know you are going to blend the exposures together later is that the camera does not move during the shoot.

Not one bit.

It stayed locked down to the tripod with the same framing from I started shooting the main image series until I was done lightpainting.

This makes it easier to keep the frames (layers in Photoshop) aligned when the time comes to blend them together. If the camera moves between frames it may be hard or even impossible to align the images.

Now I was drenched and cold, but confident I had gotten the rainy images that I wanted. It was time to pack up and go home.

 

Post Processing

Editing software

I used both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CC for the post processing of these images. I use Adobe’s subscription plan for this software. By the time of this writing it costs $9.99 a month and it ensures the software is always up to date. I can highly recommend it.

I normally use only Lightroom for most of my simple editing work, but this needed a bit more advanced editing.

I imported all my images into Lightroom as I usually do, and did some basic sorting, discarding the bad frames and some basic white balance and contrast adjustments.

Then I selected the images that I was going to blend together and opened them as layers in Photoshop.

Lighten blend mode in Photoshop

The secret to successfully blending these rainy photos together is the lighten blend mode in Photoshop. Basically it means that it compares two layers and it lets the lighter pixels of one layer blend in with the other If you’re not familiar with the lighten blend mode in Photoshop take a look at this YouTube-video.

In this video they use the lighten blend mode to create more sea and waves from a stack of pictures, just as I created more light in the foreground and the trees from my stack of pictures. This blend mode also helped to increase the number of raindrops in the final image. I had this process in mind when I shot the light painted frames.

The blend mode alone doesn’t do all the work though. There is still a need for some manual adjustments with masks and brushes. If you don’t understand the concept of layers and masks look at this video.

Final editing touches

After being blended successfully in Photoshop the final image is imported back into Lightroom and stacked with the other images (stacked in the catalog, not to be confused with Photoshop layer stacking). Here I did some finetuning to the contrast and some sharpening and that’s the finished image at the top of this article.

Final Notes

I hope you found this (quite lengthy) explanation of how I made this rainy photograph useful.

As you can see there are great photographic opportunities in harsh weather.

If you’re still not convinced to grab a camera and run out in the rain, why not fake it? Creative use of lawn sprinklers and garden hoses can make great rain for your images.

Just get out there and shoot!

 

 

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