“Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.” This line from an old nursery rhyme has popped into my head many times over the years growing up in the soggy Pacific Northwest. It came to mind again when I arrived at North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway to photograph autumn and was greeted by dreary clouds dropping lots of moisture. I prefer the comfort of warm and dry weather and at first was bummed about the drizzle, but my fall photography shoot worked out better than I hoped – not just in spite of the rain but actually because of it.
This was a great reminder for me as I thought back to other photographic excursions in the past where rain initially dampened my mood but ended up enhancing the photographic possibilities. Now armed with a fresh appreciation for rainy days, in this article I will share ten tips for taking pictures in the rain that have helped me make the best of wet weather conditions and produce some of my most memorable photographs.
10 Tips for Taking Beautiful Photos in the Rain
1. Use a Golf Umbrella
I prefer a large golf style umbrella for taking pictures in the rain compared to typical, smaller umbrellas I have seen and tried. The golf umbrellas are large enough to keep all of you and your gear dry (including a larger telephoto lens), and they tend to be better constructed to withstand some wind.
In the past, I would use a clamp to attach the umbrella to my tripod, but I learned the hard way that any breeze sends vibrations in the open umbrella down into the tripod and results in a softening of the images at many common shutter speeds. There is also the risk that a big gust of wind can take your tripod and precious gear quickly to the ground – don’t ask me how I know :-).
I now prefer to slip the umbrella shaft inside my tightly zipped jacket and tuck the bottom into my belt or waistband, providing a stable hold for the umbrella without the potential problems of tripod attachment. Other times, I’ve found I can hold the umbrella with one hand while still operating my camera with the other, and on occasion I’ve had a partner with me on the shoot who serves as the umbrella holding assistant.
2. Hand-Hold Using Image Stabilization
As I drive an area scouting for good landscape photography opportunities in the rain, I sometimes just want to stop and make an image quickly to minimize my exposure to nasty weather, or avoid the extra time and effort setting up a tripod if the composition I want to make is along the roadside where vehicle traffic would be a concern for slow methodical work. And sometimes I just want my shooting to be more free and spontaneous.
For these situations where I’m working fast, hand-holding the camera is a great option. With the prevalence of optical image stabilization built into many lenses, as well as image sensor stabilization on most mirrorless cameras, hand-holding is much more effective than it used to be before these technologies and can produce very sharp images. Additionally, modern cameras produce quite good image quality in the ISO 400-1600 range with less noise compared to older digital cameras, so raising ISO to enable a faster hand-holdable shutter speed when needed works well. And in the rain, it can be needed quite often.
3. Use a Raincoat Instead of Umbrella
There are times when it’s more efficient to use a raincoat instead of umbrella, tucking the camera inside when not taking an image (or use a rain cover on the camera/lens combo for further protection). This works well with my previous tip to hand-hold, allowing me to stop when I come across a great scene and get out to take a picture with reasonable speed – then back into the warm, dry vehicle. Especially when wind makes umbrella usage a serious problem, I find a large rain jacket well-suited to protecting both me and my gear for shorter periods out in wet conditions.
4. Photograph From Inside Your Vehicle
When your chosen subject can be seen from an overlook or the side of the road, photographing from inside the vehicle can be a viable option and one that effortlessly keeps you and your camera gear dry. A scenic drive with views can be perfect for this, as I found along the Blue Ridge Parkway which offers more than 200 overlooks along its 469-mile length.
One rainy evening, I presumed I was finished shooting for the day as darkness approached. But as I drove back toward my campground, I spotted a potential composition as rain clouds slowly rolled down a mountainside blanketed with fall colors. I was able to use a pullout, roll down my driver’s window, and take pictures of this fantastic scene while staying out of the drizzle.
5. Minimize Lens Changes in the Rain
When photographing in the rain, I often keep my photo backpack in my vehicle and take just the camera with one lens out into the elements. Choosing your lens before you get out will keep your camera mount and rear lens element from getting wet. Zoom lenses work really well here. Based on the scene I’m getting ready to photograph, I might put on a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, or whatever will be the most likely range needed to take that picture. A wide range 28-200mm zoom could be perfect, especially if it is relatively well-sealed against moisture.
6. Small Accessories Can Make a Big Difference
A few little things in your camera pack can add up to making a rainy day shoot more enjoyable. I always attach the matching hood onto each of my lenses and find them effective at keeping raindrops off the front element. The rain cover included with most photo backpacks helps keep all my camera gear dry when I take the pack into the rain. And a large, soft cloth (not the typical thin microfiber cloth) is something I use all day to dry off any rain on camera and lens after each photography session.
7. Use a Weather App to Track Storms
You’ve got a great tool in your pocket to help plan your shots during rainy weather – your cell phone. A good weather app will allow you to view the satellite image with animation showing projected cloud path, and the latest default weather app in iPhones often shows an estimate of when a drizzle will end and a lull begin. Having information about what the storm is doing will help you maximize your shooting opportunities. (For specific suggestions, here’s a list of our favorite photography apps, which includes multiple weather-related app recommendations.)
8. Watch for Special, Photogenic Conditions
My favorite thing about a rainy day is that it often brings additional conditions that benefit photography, sometimes in a quite spectacular manner. Waterfalls that are otherwise small or dry will be full and beautiful during and after rains. Autumn colors will be deeply saturated, and rocks and earth that may normally look dull will have newfound richness.
Driving into higher elevations on a rainy day can immerse you in fog-like conditions full of atmosphere, or you may see breaks in the clouds where sunbeams stream down. I’m always watching for rainbows, lightning, hail, and the potential for rain to turn to snow. These special weather conditions can bring the drama we photographers crave, and they’ve provided me with some of my favorite images on a day that began with just rain.
9. Optimize Your Post-Processing
Photographing in the rain can produce files out of your camera that appear dull and lack contrast and punch, so I like to compensate in the development to bring the images back to the full life I perceived when I made the compsitions. I will usually add some extra contrast, clarity, and vibrance above my standard workflow, and this makes a big difference when rainy conditions have given me a flatter image. I prefer to shoot RAW, not in-camera JPEG, to give me the widest latitude for post-processing work.
Other times, the images produced from a rainy day inspire me to run with the misty atmosphere and convert to black & white during post-processing. For someone like me who normally loves color, this opens up an entire new world of inspiration and creativity, and a black & white interpretation can make the right scene really sing.
10. Adopt an Attitude of Adventure
This tip may be the most important for me! I’m predisposed to desiring comfort and sunshine so am usually not thrilled when it’s rainy, and if my attitude starts tending toward the negative, my day of photography does not go as well. It’s something I will always need to remind myself of: When I adopt an attitude of adventure and positively engage with the conditions I’ve been given, I’m able to better see the opportunities available and make the most of them.
While rainy days can seem dreary and at times make me want to hole up indoors, I’ve learned that they hold great potential for producing beautiful photographs. Armed with these tips and ideas for taking pictures in the rain, you will most likely be rewarded for pushing out of your comfort zone and engaging with the weather conditions. I hope you find inspiration in this article for your next rainy day outing, and please feel free to share in the comments your own tips that have worked for you.