I am sitting in my studio with rain lashing down. April showers is one thing, but this is ridiculous! I thought it might be an idea to post my top tips on photographing in the rain.
Many photographers simply dismiss making images in wet weather out of hand, but in doing so I think they are missing out on some wonderful and different images. Granted, if the rain is really driving and especially if it is blowing directly onto the lens, it is pretty much impossible to work outside. It is then I look for an indoor location or head home, fire up the iMac and do some image processing with some good music on and a nice hot cup of tea to enjoy.
However, we often get gentler rain or it is blowing in from behind us so the lens stays clear. It could be the rain is coming down vertically or is intermittent. In those circumstances it can be ‘game on’.
The first thing is to protect our gear. Whether we shoot on film or digitally, water and cameras are not a good mix. If our body and lenses are from a pro range, like the Canon 1ds and ‘L’ lenses, they are heavily sealed against water and dust and can perform in extreme conditions, but mid range bodies and lenses down, while having some weather sealing can soon start to be affected (often terminally) by water and dust. I have tried all kinds of camera protectors and to be honest, most are just impractical. At one end there are over designed complex polythene systems with arm holes and gussets, seals, elastic and goodness knows what that take a couple of days and a lot of patience to fit and are then so bulky and restrictive in their desire to totally protect the kit that operating the camera with them fitted is like trying to thread a needle with our hands submerged in a bucket of jelly.
There are other simpler protectors which are so flimsy they are worse than useless.
I do carry a couple of the disposable Optech ‘Rainsleeves’. These are low cost, come in packs of two and are designed to be used a few times and then thrown away. With careful use they can last quite a while. They take up little space in the kit bag and the price is very reasonable. It has to be bad for me to put them on though because, like most rain covers, they restrict us in using the camera. Everything becomes fiddly and a bit of a chore. The worst problem is getting your eye to the eye piece to compose and focus (or, if you use Live View, seeing the monitor clearly as the polythene is not optically clear enough to focus critically). There is a hole in the protector which is designed to go around the eye piece but to fit it you need to take the eye pice rubber off and then re-fit it over the polythene and by this time I am losing the will to live.
A simpler and much cheaper option is to carry a thick polythene bag. I carry one which is big enough to simply pop over the whole of my set up on the tripod. It covers camera, lens and filters. Obviously, you can’t work with this in place but it saves packing up for every shower. As soon as the rain has passed over, just whip it off and got on with the business of making images.
I also carry a cover similar to this one. Bought on EBay for less than £15 it gives good access to the cameras controls and is quick to fit and remove. Focusing and zooming are a bit tight but the cameras body controls are very easy to use, as is the eye piece and screen. I have been using mine for a couple of years and it is stills waterproof. Made from proofed nylon you buy one to fit each lens and body combination (in theory) but I bought one for my longest lens, my 200mm f2.8, and use it on all my lenses – the shorter lenses just have the cover a bit bunched up but it is not an problem for me.
Then, yesterday, on one of my bluebell wood workshops, a client had a new ‘device’ which seems like a brilliant idea to me (Thanks for the tip, Maria!). She was given the idea by photographer, Jeremy Walker. It may sound a bit strange but in really wet conditions yesterday she was able to shoot with ease and keep her kit dry. It was a very large sheet of Chamois leather. Told you it sounds strange. However, it is is not your average Chamois from Halfords. She got this from Skye Skynes – here on this page . Now, when you see the price (£22 delivered in the UK) you will probably have a sharp intake of breath and think I have finally lost my marbles, but before you shake your head and leave this post let me just tell you, these are the most amazing Chamois you have ever seen or felt. Skye Skyns make them from sheep skins on the Isle of Skye and they are very thick – many times thicker than the Chamois I use when cleaning the car. It is also the softest Chamois I have ever felt. The sheet is really big and you just drape it over your camera and lens. In between exposures you can drape it over the front of the lens (and filters) to protect the glass from drops of rain. It absorbs the rain and is perfect for wiping kit dry too. Because it is a sheet rather than something fitted you can double or triple fold it and just drape it over the lens and position it as you wish. As I watched my client work I was impressed with how easy it was for her. The Chamois has another advantage, it makes a great thing to wrap kit in to protect it. So even in dry weather it iso earning its keep in the rucksack. They are washable so when they get grubby they can be spruced up easily. I have ordered mine and can’t wait for it to be delivered, although knowing me it will come the day a long drought starts and I won’t get to use it in anger for months!
A good style of hat to wear in the rain is a hat with a rigid peak, like a baseball cap (but waterproof). This keeps us a bit drier and warmer but also the peak goes over the top of the camera while we have our eye to the eyepiece and helps stop the rain fogging the viewfinder. Absorbent lens cloths (and often several of them are needed for a rain session) are essential for drying fog off of the viewfinder and lens.
I also keep all those little bags of silica gel which come in many products packaging when they are delivered to us, you know the little white sachets with beads in which have ‘do not eat’ written on the outside. Silica gel absorbs moisture. I keep them all and drop a few in my camera bag, to help dry the air in the bag. Every now and then I swap them out, dry the old ones out at home and let the new ones do their job in my rucksack. (I also keep them in my laptop bag, lens cases and so on. Every little helps.
What about drying kit off after the session? I use absorbent cloths to dab the camera and lens dry, getting the worst of the wet off. I then let the kit dry slowly and naturally in a warm spot in the house, but not by direct heat. Then, once dry it needs a clean and polish to get any residue off of the body and glass. For cleaning my lenses I have stopped buying the ridiculously expensive lens cleaning fluid the manufacturers would like us to use. I get a big bottle of lens cleaner from my opticians for £2.75 (and that amount lasts me a couple of years!!). I use it to clean my glasses and honestly can’t see any difference when using it on my lens compared to the stuff sold by camera suppliers. I have a small spray bottle I decant some into to take into the field from the large bottle which stays at home.
That’s enough on keeping the kit dry. What about technique?
Firstly, I don’t tend to use lens hoods for protecting against flare but I do use them to keep rain off of the lens. The two lenses I have which have particularly effective lens hoods are the Canon 24-70 L and the 70-200mm. Both of these come with a lens hood which is a full tube, not ‘petals’ which is more usual on wider angle lenses. These completely shield the lens glass from all but rain which is driving towards the lens in strong winds. The downside is that you can’t use Lee filters. To overcome this limitation I take bracketed exposures and blend them later in Photoshop. Problem solved.
I sometimes carry a golf umbrella which is useful to work under as long as there isn’t much wind. (This is the umbrella I use – designed for use in high winds – CLICK HERE) If the rain is coming in horizontally or the wind is strong, forget the umbrella, it is just impractical. I have been toying with the idea of trying studio lighting clamps to see if I can find one which will lock on to my tripod leg and hold the umbrella over me and the camera so that my hands are free to work. I will let you know if I find one that is suitable.
It makes sense not to fight the rain, so if it is blowing in from a particular direction, see if there are images to be made that will enable you to turn the lens away from the direction it is coming from. I also often head to woodlands in the rain. Trees in leaf will provide good cover although when the leaves get very wet it will start to get through to you, but it is dripping vertically from the leaves and not blowing in to the lens so with some of the protection I describe above we can continue working.
So, there we are, all set up with a protected camera and some techniques to help us keep dry while we shoot. Is there any way we can use the rain to enhance our images? Most certainly.
The first thing to say is that the light as ‘bad’ weather passes or just before it arrives, is often spectacular. Foregrounds can be lit with glorious golden light with a deep black sky (one of the rare occasions that the sky is darker than the foreground). Shafts of light can pour from the clouds and glide across the land or sea. Rainbows decorate the sky. It is the photographer who is prepared to be out in the rain that gets to capture this glory.
In rain I often focus on making detail images, intimate landscapes. In woodland or in amongst the shelter of rocks there are lots of fascinating details which look great when wet. The diffused soft light when it rains is perfect for detail images as there are no strong shadows to contend with and the colours are rendered beautifully. The woods or rocks provide some cover and working on the close landscape provides a nice change from shooting the wider world.
While it is raining keep an eye open for things being back-lit. As the sun emerges from the clouds, wet trees, plants and buildings can glow as the sun catches the wet surfaces. If you want the opposite effect and want to kill reflections and saturate colours, fir a polarising filter and rotate it while looking through the eyepiece and see the reflections disappear. Shooting in the rain is also an ideal time for more creative image making – try shooting through wet glass from inside a car or cafe. The rain blurs the world and creates an impressionistic feel to things. Or go the whole hog and have a go at ICM (intentional camera movement) utilising the low light to lengthen the shutter speed and create images with blur by moving the camera.
If you like long exposures, try shooting them in the rain. If you can keep the kit dry, the effect of the long exposures is to turn the rain into mist and you end up with an image which looks like it has been shot on a misty or foggy day.
A final idea is to shoot puddles and running water. The raindrops create radiating patterns and often the light and colours above the water is reflected in it and yields great creative possibilities.
It has taken me a few days to put this post together. Now, as I finish it, the day is warm and bright. the rain seems a million miles away, but it is forecast again for tomorrow. I find myself hoping it will rain, so I can go out and have a go at capturing something with my camera. I hope you feel inspired to, too.