Let the Rain Come
We often think of the light on rainy days as “dull.” But there’s a difference between “dull” and “muted.” Like the shot above of the Charles Bridge in Prague. The soft rainy-day light makes the colors of the buildings across the Vltava River muted and, to my eye, beautiful – quite a different mood from the same image on a bright, sunny day. We can’t actually see the raindrops, but we know it’s raining because of the umbrellas and raincoats, which also give us little splashes of color. (If you’re shooting in the rain but can’t actually see the drops, find other ways to let viewers know it’s raining.)
The same is true of this image I made on a drizzly, foggy day in China. (One of those days when I was tempted to stay in the hotel.) Glad I didn’t, because I like the mood captured in this photo. It’s almost sepia-toned — only the two yellow umbrellas provide any real color. But they are just enough.
If you want to show the actual raindrops, here are a couple of tips: Use a slow shutter speed. A fast shutter speed will freeze the drops, which may be fine, but may make them hard to see. Slower shutter speeds allow the drops to travel a bit while the shutter is open, making them little streaks — the slower the shutter speed, the longer the streaks. Like in the picture at right, where you can see the rain against the train car. But remember not to go TOO slow with your shutter speed. It’s hard to hold a camera steady much below a 60th of a second, and anything in the frame that moves is going to blur.
Notice too that you can see the rain streaking past the gray part of the train car (and against the dark window), but not at the top, where the car is painted white. This is the other tip. Be aware of your background. Rain is very hard to see against a bright background, much easier to see against dark. Here’s another example:
Notice how fluid the rain flowing off the awnings is. That’s because Cary used really slow shutter speeds — 1/8 sec. on the left, 1/13 sec. on the right. (For more about moving water and shutter speeds, please see the Water Falls Actual Info and TipsFlick.)
Of course, if you are out shooting in the rain, I’m sure you’re taking all the precautions to keep your camera dry that we talk about in the TipsFlick. Electronic things do not like water. Just one tiny drop in the wrong place can turn your expensive camera into a paperweight and put you in a mood even fouler than the weather.
A tip: If a piece of your gear gets wet, open it up as much as possible (remove body cap, etc.) and put it in a sealable plastic bag with a handful or two of rice (not cooked, of course). The rice absorbs moisture, and I can tell you from experience that this little trick works. I’ve had function return to gear I thought was lost. Works for cell phones and other electronic stuff too. But be careful not to get rice into the innards of your gear.
And stay with it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the sun comes out after the rain has passed and you get gorgeous slate skies and wet, reflective streets.
And if there’s rain in the distance, watch out for rainbows and any place the sun breaks through. Like below. I was in a national park in Kenya and saw this sky and rainbow in the distance. “Gorgeous backdrop” sprang to my mind. But backdrop for what? I raced around searching for something — anything — to fill the foreground, and at last found this herd of impalas right in a splash of golden sunlight. It was a happy moment of serendipity (the photographer’s best friend). But always remember this. Serendipity can’t find you unless you are out and about. She’s too shy to visit while you’re asleep in your bed.
Actual Info: Text © 2012 Robert Caputo
Photos © 2012 Robert Caputo, © 2012 Cary Wolinsky