Many landscape photographers try to avoid shooting in the rain, but I encourage you to give it a chance. Rainy scenes tend to look gorgeously moody, and stormy clouds can lend a wonderful softness to the light. Don’t worry about getting wet or ruining your gear, either – there are ways to avoid these issues, as I explain below.
In this article, I share with you eight valuable tips for taking stunning landscape photographs in the rain. I discuss:
- How to protect your equipment during a rainy photoshoot
- How to pick the right settings
- Some fun ideas for shooting on stormy days
- Much more!
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know that inclement weather does not mean you have to stay indoors. Instead, when the rain starts, you can head outside to capture stunning, dramatic landscape pictures!
1. Protect your camera and accessories
While rainy-day landscape photography often promises spectacular results, camera gear and water do not go well together. I’m always careful to keep my camera dry, even though it’s technically weather-sealed, and I encourage you to do the same. It always pays to be cautious!
So how can you prevent your gear from getting wet? First, if you plan to head out on a day with rain in the forecast, pack your camera and lenses in a protective bag (plastic is generally fine). That way, even if your camera backpack is soaked, your gear will remain safe. You should also carry a rain cover of some sort – whether homemade or purchased from a camera shop – and make sure you put it on as soon as the rain starts falling.
Second, take some lint-free towels along with you. Microfiber towels are best because they won’t leave debris on your lenses and camera with each wipe.
Look after yourself, too. Take an umbrella or wear a raincoat. Depending on where you plan to go, one may be better than the other. I even take an umbrella when I wear a raincoat as it can help keep my camera dry.
Then, when you’re out and about and you need to put your camera bag down, be careful where you place it. Make sure there’s no puddle (and that a puddle doesn’t seem about to form). It’s easy to get so focused on taking photos that you don’t realize your camera bag is soaking up water from the ground.
Before you head out into the elements, attach the most suitable lens to your camera, and when you’re out, avoid changing it. Doing so opens the interior of your camera to moisture – even if you’re not standing in the rain.
Finally, check the front of your lens before you take each photo. Even if you’re careful to avoid the rain, stray drops can make their way onto your front element (and it’s easier to see water from the front). If you’re using a tripod, you can set the self-timer for a few seconds; that way, when you fire off a shot, you can wipe the front of your lens and remove the droplets before the shutter opens.
2. Stay out of the rain when you can
Capturing rainy-day landscape photos doesn’t actually have to occur in the rain, and the more you can avoid getting wet, the better.
Look for shelter and make the most of it! Find a bus stop or the awning of a building. Staying in your car and shooting through the window is also an option.
It’s not always possible to locate shelter, but when you do, it will provide you with space to take your time. You can enjoy your landscape photography without worrying about keeping you and your camera gear dry.
Even if you don’t have a clear view of the landscape from your protected position, there are still plenty of options. Try incorporating the shelter into the shots, or even make the most of the water drops on the windows to create some artistic photos:
3. Be prepared for changing light and weather
On rainy days, the weather and light are frequently unpredictable, so you need to keep an eye on both. It’s easy to become so engrossed in capturing the beautiful landscape that you fail to notice these changes, which can harm your photos (or your gear).
If you venture out between squalls, listen for the sound of the coming rain. Be one step ahead of that next rain shower, and make sure you have your gear and yourself well protected before it arrives.
Lighting changes for landscapes in the rain can happen quickly and are often fleeting. Pay careful attention to the clouds and try to anticipate what might happen. Look for light patches in the sky, and pay attention to the direction the clouds are moving. Then you can be prepared for those brief moments when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and provides a vivid shaft of sunlight. With any luck, this light will illuminate an interesting aspect of your scene.
Check your exposure meter regularly. On rainy days, the light has a tendency to change slowly. Heavier cloud cover may build up over time and obscure the sun more heavily, or the clouds may gradually thin so the atmosphere becomes lighter. If you’re using some type of auto-exposure mode, this won’t be a problem, but if your camera is set to Manual mode, you’ll need to make adjustments as you shoot.
4. Look for reflections
Puddles, pavements, and pretty much any other wet object will produce some kind of reflection, and reflections tend to look amazing in landscape shots. As you photograph, look for reflections you can incorporate into your landscape compositions.
For instance, by including a reflection in the foreground, you can lead a viewer’s eye deeper into your photo and provide more interest.
Pro tip: Whenever you do encounter an interesting reflective surface, make sure you test out different positions. The angle you choose determines how the reflection you’re photographing looks in relation to the landscape.
Pay attention to the light, too. It will change as you move about to set up your composition, and it’s important that you make adjustments to your reflection image accordingly.
Last, as you approach each new reflection, experiment with a polarizing filter and slow shutter speeds. They won’t improve each and every reflection shot, but when faced with the right scenario, the results can be great!
5. Make use of bright colors
Here’s a quick tip for you:
On overcast, rainy days when the sky is dark, look for color. A nice bright burst of color will help add some life to an otherwise drab landscape.
It might be a brightly colored building or fence, or perhaps a parked car or truck. Nature can also provide some vivid color on cloudy days; look for flowers that you can incorporate in the foreground of your compositions or blossoming trees that’ll contrast with a dark sky. You can get especially gorgeous shots when you combine rain and fall foliage!
By the way, because polarizing filters cut down on reflections, they’re a great way to increase the intensity of colors in landscape scenes. So if your scene does feature bright colors, consider bringing out that polarizer.
6. Experiment with different camera settings
When photographing landscapes in the rain, it’s important to test out a variety of settings; otherwise, you risk capturing blurry, poorly exposed shots.
I prefer to use Manual mode to set my exposure; it allows me to be more precise, and it ensures that I’m always aware of my exposure triangle settings. With Manual mode, I can adjust my aperture as I slow my shutter speed down, which can alter the look and feel of a landscape photograph, particularly when working in heavy rain.
(Slower shutter speeds cause the rain to blur, making for a mistier effect, while faster shutter speeds will freeze the rain and show it as it falls.)
Additionally, you need to be careful when focusing. If you focus in the wrong spot, the raindrops may all turn blurry – and if you’re shooting with a fast shutter speed, you’ll probably want some of the raindrops to appear crisp. It can help to switch your lens over to manual focus, especially if visibility is low!
7. Embrace the mood
Rainy days have a very particular mood, and I encourage you to compose and set your exposures in a way that will maximize the feeling of each scene.
Including a large amount of sky in a landscape composition helps introduce the atmosphere, which I highly recommend. Balance your exposure well so there’s plenty of detail visible in the clouds – and when you encounter a mixture of dark, heavy rain clouds and lighter clouds, make the most of this contrast.
Look for fog or mist. This type of atmospheric moisture helps add a sense of mystery to landscape photos. Be patient when photographing in foggy conditions, and pay careful attention to the way the atmosphere changes. It may not initially seem like anything’s happening, but as you observe the scene, you’ll notice the fog or mist moving over time, thus altering the look of the landscape.
8. Break out your macro lens while you wait
Landscape photography, whether it’s raining or not, includes long periods of waiting for the right weather conditions and light.
So as you sit, look around your location for close-up subjects that are enhanced by the rain: Colorful leaves, beautiful flowers, splashes in puddles, trickles of water streaming off the edges of trees, birds sheltering from the rain, and more.
Then use a macro or telephoto lens to capture all the gorgeous details. Make sure to get close enough to really offer a good view of the rain and its effects. Remember that tiny, often-overlooked details have the potential to become lovely photos!
Landscape photography in the rain: final words
Rainy days can be great for landscape photography, so when the rain starts falling, head outside! Take steps to keep yourself and your camera gear dry, and discover the photographic opportunities offered by inclement weather.
Finally, be flexible. Rainy days can be unpredictable. You might head out expecting the rain to last all day and be met with lovely, bright sunshine. Make the most of it. The light is often the most vivid and rich after it’s been raining!
Now over to you:
Do you plan to photograph in the rain? Do you have any tips that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!