Taking pictures of the rain encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and overcome challenging low-light scenery. Here are some tips.
Once, during a storm in the mountains, Erin Kathleen was on the road when she heard her children shout, “Rainbow!” before pulling over, standing on the sidestep of her car, capturing the moment—and getting drenched in the process.
It was a rainy day at home when Stacey Muñiz spotted her daughter outside, her face turned up to catch the drops as they fell.
On a summer afternoon in the backyard, Lindsay Herkert captured the moment her son splashed her daughter with a hose, the water sparkling all around her.
The beauty of rain photography lies in its spontaneity. “Typically, if I am shooting in the rain, it is a last-minute decision because something has inspired me . . . usually, the rain!” Herkert tells us. “I just grab my camera and go.”
The rain brings its fair share of technical challenges, but that’s part of the joy of it. When you nail the perfect picture in the rain, there’s nothing quite like it.
In this quick guide, we’ll cover the basics of shooting in the rain, from gear selection and location scouting to camera settings and composition tools. Along the way, Erin Kathleen, Muñiz, and Herkert share the secrets they’ve learned over years of chasing light and raindrops.
Taking pictures on a rainy day can be a challenge, but with these tips, you can pull it off. Just don’t forget your galoshes. License these images via Dean Drobot, Anna-Nas, CHOKCHAI POOMICHAIYA, and Kantaya.
What You’ll Need (Aside from an Umbrella)
A DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
Investing in a DSLR or mirrorless camera is necessary to overcome the challenge of low light on a rainy day. You’ll need a wide, dynamic range and the option to shoot at high ISO, plus good weather sealing. The more durable your camera, the better.
“Something else to watch for, in general, is being in warm, humid weather and then going indoors to air conditioning or strong fans,” Muñiz explains. To protect your camera, avoid subjecting it to extreme temperature shifts, and consider carrying silica gel packs in your camera bag to absorb unwanted moisture.
In addition, a waterproof camera case and lens hood are recommended to protect your camera from the rain. If those accessories aren’t within your budget, you can always improvise by covering your camera body in a transparent bag to ensure it stays dry.
“In moments where I have been caught without rain protection, I’ve used a grocery bag—doubling them, if available!” Muñiz adds. “I’ve also made sure to cover my main camera bag so moisture doesn’t seep in.”
Herkert prefers to head out during lighter rain showers, when it’s not pouring. In cases like those, she might use a light rain cover like this one, available for less than $10 on Amazon.
Your lens choice will depend on your goals. For landscapes, a wide angle will capture more of the scenery, while a 50mm or 85mm will work best with portraits. You might opt for a 35mm if you’re shooting lifestyle images, allowing for shots that are intimate but also include some context.
You can also get creative with your lens choice. Erin Kathleen, for instance, will use a Lensbaby Edge 80 to introduce some artistic blur around her subject.
“I like to free-lens, but I won’t do so when I’m physically out in the rain,” she tells us. “The Edge 80 is a great alternative, once you get the hang of it. I can get a similar look without removing my lens.”
While Herkert usually uses her Canon L series 50mm 1.2 lens or her Sigma Art 35mm lens, she also experiments with a 35mm Lensbaby, a lens that was inspired by the “swirly bokeh” of vintage Petzval lenses.
Keep a microfiber cloth on hand, and consider a UV filter too, which can help protect your lens from drops of water.
Finally, using a macro lens provides an extreme close-up view of rain on different surfaces. Raindrops on leaves, flowers, windows, and so on look stunning up close. Raindrops are popular subjects in macro photography for their aesthetic quality and stillness.
There are many styles of rain photography—many of which can benefit greatly from the extra stability provided by a tripod. Some rain scenes require long exposures, which have a greater need for stability to avoid blurred images and camera-shake.
For landscape photographers, a tripod is usually non-negotiable, though you have more flexibility if you’re shooting lifestyle pictures and portraits. In situations where you can’t (or don’t want to) use a tripod, you’ll need a faster shutter speed (more on this later.)
License these images via Dani Llao Calvet, Alex Zotov, and IAKIMCHUK IAROSLAV.
If possible, consider a location that offers some shelter from the rain.
“When shooting a client in the rain, I chose a location that would also have a structure of some sort so we can step underneath if need be: A barn, roof, sunroom, or under trees,” Muñiz tells us. “On one shoot where it wasn’t raining too hard, we used the last two top floors of a parking deck. The specific location was a prime spot in a quiet town. The clouds were magnificent.”
Consider scouting your location and taking test shots during similar conditions on a different day (at the same time of day) to get a sense of how the light falls.
Time of Day
You can make magical rain photographs at any time of day, but Muñiz and Herkert both prefer the golden hour just after sunrise and before sunset, when the light is soft, directional, and diffused. You can use an app like PhotoPills to determine the exact timing in your location.
“If it is a light rain–which is the type of rain I am usually shooting in–then I try to shoot in the morning or late afternoon,” Herkert tells us.
As a bonus, rainbows are most likely to appear when the sun is low on the horizon. Stick around after the golden hour to watch the sunset too, which can set the sky ablaze in color.
Midday light presents far more challenges, like too-bright highlights, harsh shadows, and squinting models–so many photographers will opt to avoid it. But, it is possible to make it work, especially if you’re intentionally seeking hard contrasts.
“If it’s raining in the middle of an otherwise sunny day, there’s going to be a lovely contrast between dark and light, cool and warm, and the raindrops are going to stand out like glitter in your photographs,” Erin Kathleen says.
After dark, artificial light can introduce colors and moods you can’t get during the day. No matter what time of day you choose, look for areas of light to create visible raindrops. Subtle backlight, especially during the golden hour, can help bring those droplets to life.
“In natural light, scan over the area with your eyes, and focus on where the light reflection is catching the most,” Muñiz urges. “You will find it because that is where the rain is most evident. Sometimes, it is in unexpected places. At night, too, I have definitely been inspired when there is a large spotlight connected to a building.”
Streetlights and car headlights can also work at night.
The Right Camera Settings
Figuring out the best camera settings for your rainy scene depends on the style and atmosphere you’re trying to achieve.
Perhaps you’d like to catch individual raindrops in your shot, for instance, or maybe you’d prefer the abstract look of streaks of falling water. Whatever the case, you’ll need to adjust your settings accordingly.
- Fast: Capturing rain in mid-air requires a fast shutter speed. If the shutter speed is too slow, the raindrops will appear blurred before they reach the ground. To freeze droplets in your image, it’s best to use a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec. “I prefer a fast shutter speed to completely freeze those raindrops, but this is a personal preference,” Erin Kathleen says.
- Slow: A slow shutter speed of around 1/60 sec will produce nice, long, artistic steaks in your photography. As a general rule, the longer the shutter speed, the greater the blur—and vice versa. “Some photographers like to use a slower shutter speed so the raindrops leave a streak in the image,” Erin Kathleen continues. Another benefit of shooting with a longer shutter speed is that you can keep your ISO low and your images noise-free.
Use a fast shutter speed to capture rain in motion. A slow shutter speed can create a more artistic look. License these images via Vadven and majivecka.
A wide aperture allows more light into your lens, which is ideal on a low-light, rainy day. At the same time, opening up your aperture will decrease your depth of field, casting your background out of focus.
For landscapes or shots where you need every element to be in focus, from foreground to background, a wide aperture isn’t ideal, but it can create beautiful bokeh in portraits and lifestyle images.
“I like to shoot all the way open (f/1.4, in the case of my Sigma lens),” Muñiz explains. “A lower aperture creates depth and separation from your background. If it’s really bright, I’ll go with a higher aperture, but with the rain, you don’t get that very often.”
When you want more of the scene to be in focus, stop down your lens.
“For rain photos, I would set my aperture higher than usual in an attempt to capture the detail with as many raindrops as possible,” Herkert explains. “I would start at at least f/3.5 and push it higher if possible, depending on how low the light is outside.”
To oversimplify, ISO can be used to describe your camera sensor’s (or film’s) sensitivity to light. A low ISO means less sensitivity to light, while a high ISO means more sensitivity to light.
Adjusting your camera settings to a medium-to-high ISO can help you navigate the low light of rainy days, though the higher you go, the more noise (in the case of digital) or grain (in the case of film) you’ll introduce into your images.
“ISO is the biggest determination on camera quality, in my opinion,” Muñiz says. “I don’t mind shooting with grain, so I will absolutely bump it all the way up to get ‘that shot’ if it’s spur of the moment or short-lasting. Typically, though, I go with as little noise/grain as possible.”
Herkert has a similar philosophy, adding, “I usually try to keep my ISO at 800 or less to avoid grain, but if I had to push it to 1000 due to low light, I would. I don’t think I would go higher than that, though.”
With that being said, some cameras handle higher ISOs better than others, so get to know your gear, and tailor your approach accordingly.
Setting your camera to macro mode provides an extreme close-up view of rain on different surfaces. Raindrops on leaves, flowers, windows, lakes, and so on look stunning up close.
Raindrops are popular subjects in macro photography for their aesthetic quality and lack of motion.
Artistic Compositions in Rain Photography
Rainy days lend themselves to artistic compositions. Consider the feeling or message you want to evoke, followed by the mood and the tools you’ll need to achieve the effect.
Reflections are one of the greatest perks for a photographer when shooting on a rainy day, as they provide symmetry and balance. Look for reflections in puddles on the ground, and ensure your camera is set to manual mode so you have complete control over the exposure and focus settings.
“Whenever I shoot reflections, I strive to incorporate some kind of action that enhances the strength of the story,” Herkert tells us. “For example, a child jumping in a puddle or riding his bike through it. Or, if you are working with couples, you could get a reflection of them kissing. It is fun to make the reflection the majority of the photo, cutting off what is creating the reflection (e.g., only showing people’s feet, not their whole body) so that the reflection is the focal point.”
Try a few different angles and perspectives to see what works.
“I like to get low, even laying on the ground if needed,” Erin Kathleen tells us. “It helps to have the LCD screen on while shooting so you can see what you’re doing at these odd angles.”
Rain Through a Window
Capturing rain through a window is a wonderful technique for creating abstract rain imagery. Look for patterns in the raindrops and bright lights or colors outside the window for more interesting results.
It can be helpful to focus manually to get everything right, with the raindrops sharp. A wider aperture will ensure your background is blurred (hello, bokeh) while the raindrops themselves are clear.
Shooting from behind glass offers a fascinating look at rain behind the lens. License these images via Eugene Grabkin and August_0802.
Rain at night can appear almost invisible behind the lens. This is where a strategic use of light can enhance the look of rain in your photography. Look for any light source available—streetlights, headlights, city lights, and so on—to give rain a radiant glow.
Alternatively, using the flash of your camera in manual mode is another way to illuminate raindrops. A flash also makes it easier to maintain a high shutter speed.
Ominous clouds can add to the drama of your shot. Turn your attention to the sky to catch compelling cloud formations.
A break in the clouds or light beaming down behind rain can also make for an intense photo. At sunset, you can also combine clouds and reflections by shooting the view of the sky above as reflected in still waters below.
After the Rain
One last tip: After the rain has stopped, don’t rush back inside. Stay out a little longer.
“Moments after the rain are really beautiful as well,” Muñiz explains. “A calmness. Color. Clouds. Painterly backdrops and sometimes a rainbow. You can almost smell the texture.”
Aside from the technical skills and endurance required to take rain photography, creativity is a must. So, run with your imagination, experiment with different settings and compositions, and have fun!
Preferably while staying dry.
License this cover image via PBXStudio.