how to photograph rain

Written by
Kevin LJ, Professional Photographer

Reviewed by
Chris Johnson, TPG Editor

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Learning how to photograph in the rain is fun and challenging. You can capture some intriguing photos when the weather is not so great. 

Many new photographers think of sunny days being the best for taking photos. In the morning or the evening, when the light is lovely, it’s much easier to create pretty images than on rainy days. When you think outside the box and lend a little imagination behind the lens, you can liven up even the dullest days.

As long as there’s light, you can take photos. When it’s raining out, look to see how the light is reflecting off things. How is the water in the atmosphere playing with the light? How are people and nature responding to the water everywhere? What can you do to capture the mood of the scenes you see through your lens?

In this article about rain photography, you’ll learn about the following:

  • Camera settings for rainy weather
  • Composition for rain photography
  • Great subject ideas for rainy days
  • Keeping your camera gear dry
how to photograph rain at night

Photo by Todd Diemer

Camera Settings for Rain Photography

Light for rainy-day photography can vary greatly. Rain photography does not always involve bad weather and rain clouds. Sometimes the light on a rainy day can make for some amazing beauty. So there is no formula for camera settings.

If you’re photographing dramatic skies or reflections off wet pavement, you’ll need to use different camera settings. It always pays to check your camera’s metering system to help determine the best camera settings to use.

Shutter Speed on a Rainy Day

Setting a slow shutter speed or a fast shutter speed when photographing falling rain will make a significant difference to your photos. With a slower shutter speed, the rain will appear as lines in your photos rather than droplets. Using a fast shutter speed will ‘freeze’ the raindrops.

The slower the shutter speed you use, the narrower your aperture setting can be. This will produce more depth of field but will cause the raindrops to streak. These are creative camera setting choices you have when enjoying rain photography.

Focus and Depth of Field in the Rain

Focusing on falling rain can be challenging. Do you focus close or further away? If you focus very close, you may not have much of the photo in focus. Setting a focus point further from you, you’ll have more depth of field in your photo. The aperture setting and other factors that affect the depth of field also influence where you might focus.

Often it’s easier to use manual focus for rain photography. It’s not possible for your camera to focus on falling rain. You need to choose a solid object to focus on that’s an appropriate distance from your camera.

This can be the main subject of your composition, or if the rain is your subject, then it can be something else that’s possible to focus on. Once you are happy that you’ve hit the right spot with your focus, switch to manual focus. This will keep your focus point from changing when you take another photo.

ISO Settings for Rain Photography

The ISO you use depends entirely on how much light there is when you’re taking photos. If you’re photographing in inclement weather and low light conditions, you’ll need to set a higher ISO. 

Sometimes, even during extreme weather, the sun will peak through the rain clouds and provide a fabulous, rich light. In these circumstances, you can set a lower ISO because there is more light.

how to photograph rain

Photo by Osman Rana

Composition for Rain Photography

Whether you’re out chasing rainbows or doing macro photography of wet surfaces, the best way to compose your photos is by feeling. When you look through your viewfinder, what attracts you most about what you’re seeing? Compose your photos with this element as the main feature.

Think of the various rules of composition and choose the one you think will work the best for the style of photo you want to take. Then experiment with others. The subject matter and style of your photo will determine how you frame everything up.

Some photographers prefer to stick with a select few ways to compose photos. With rain photography, it’s good to keep an open mind. You will often have the main subject, and the rain will be secondary but still important to your composition. The difference between framing a photo in good weather and stormy weather can make or break a composition.

Of course, for abstract rain photography, there are no composition rules. If you’re photographing in the worst weather conditions or a slightly wet atmosphere, there are no creative boundaries for rain photography ideas when it comes to abstract rain photography.

Great Subject Ideas for Rainy Days

Many photographers think that the best time to take photos is when it’s not raining, and the light is nice. But these conditions can exist simultaneously. Even when they don’t, there are still plenty of ways to get great photos in wet weather.

If you’re stuck at home on a rainy day and itching to get out and take photos, here are some ideas to help stimulate your creativity.

how to photograph rain

Photo by Todd Cravens

Photograph Reflections in Bad Weather

Photographing reflections is one of the best ways to make the most of rainy days. It can be as simple as finding a puddle with clouds reflecting in it. Or you might photograph traffic lights reflecting on the road or car windows.

On rainy days or nights, photographing reflections can consume a lot of your time. Once you start looking for them, you’ll see them on every wet surface.

Umbrellas Make Great Rainy Day Subjects

With or without the person holding the umbrella, they make for wonderful wet weather subjects. Bright and colorful, or black and bland, umbrellas have a great shape, and you can work them well into street photography ideas on rainy days.

Isolate a colorful umbrella against a bland background. Crop in tight and include only part of the umbrella. Look for combinations of colors and styles to include in your compositions.

Kids Playing in the Rain

Kids love to get out and play in the rain. So get them kitted out in their raincoats and let them lose in those puddles. Make sure you keep yourself and your camera dry as you enjoy photographing the children and having fun. If you don’t have a rain cover for your camera, a plastic bag can help keep splashing water off your gear.

Look for the decisive moments when the kids have the most fun. Timing is vital to capture both the children and the rain for the greatest impact.

I always love getting down to the same level as the children I’m photographing. This creates a great atmosphere because you’re taking photos like you’re one of them. It brings you right into the same space as the kids and makes it easier for viewers to connect with your photos.

how to photograph rain

Photo by Andre Taissin

Looking at Those Moody Skies

Don’t sit at home looking mournfully at the moody skies; get your camera out and photograph them. 

The sky on rainy days can be the best. There’s loads of texture and shape in the clouds. The light may be soft, or you might catch the sun peaking through and illuminating the landscape or street.

Aim to include the sky in each set of rainy-day photos you make, even when it’s not your main intention to photograph it. Don’t neglect it. Cast a glance upwards from time to time and see how the sky is changing and what opportunities it may provide you. Especially on windy days, the clouds move quickly, and the look of the sky changes dramatically.

how to photograph rain

Photo by Lucy Chian

Night Lights in the Rain

Photographing night lights and their reflections in the rain produces some fabulous photographs. 

The amount of light and color increases in city scenes when it’s raining. I prefer being out at night after the rain has stopped and every surface is wet and shiny. Even something as simple as traffic lights or car headlights reflecting off the wet road surface make a much more interesting picture than it would without the rain. 

The more colorful the lights, the greater opportunity for better reflections. Move about, and change your position and location as you look for good reflections at night. You may find them in places you don’t expect to see them.

Camera Gear Care on Rainy Days

Keeping your camera gear dry is most important. Water can cause irreparable damage to the camera and lenses. Maybe your camera is ‘weather sealed.’ If it is, this provides some protection. There are also products like waterproof camera cases you can use, but I find these inhibit camera handling. 

Even without specialist gear, you can use your camera on rainy days. You just need to be extra careful. 

Use a large umbrella. One that will protect both you and your camera gear. Work more slowly than you might normally so you can make sure not to have accidents with water coming in contact with your camera. 

how to photograph rain

Photo by Josh Hild

Take one camera and lens. Leave your camera bag at home and instead use a dry bag to protect your camera when you’re not using it. If you only have one lens with you, there is no temptation to change lenses. Changing lenses in the rain can be problematic if moisture enters the camera as you’re changing lenses.

Using a lens hood helps keep water droplets off your lens. The longer the lens hood, the more effective it is. Just make sure that it’s not so long as to impede the view through the lens.

Alternatively, you can photograph from the inside. Stay in your car, your home, or your office, and take photos on rainy days. This will limit what you can photograph, but it will help keep you and your camera dry.

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