How to Master the Art of Rain Photography

April 03

25 min. to read

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Rain photography is artful and dramatic. Learn the key features of rain photography and transform beautiful rain into your favorite subject.

Rain photography is highly demanding, and many photographers prefer to wait for sunny weather. Taking pictures of rain and wet subjects challenges photographers to use a waterproof camera, special gear, white balance, and other settings, as well as compose in difficult conditions, and convey a poetic message. Unlike sunset photography, rain photography works with low light, gray skies, unsaturated colors, and lots of water. In other words, you need to play around with different angles and settings to get masterpiece shots. 

Despite all this, rain pictures are part of all great photographers’ portfolios regardless of their style. There are good reasons for this. Rain is mysterious, moody, and dramatic. It changes landscapes and people. Rain is always different and perfect for artistic approaches. It can easily transform a dull subject into something amazing.

Do you remember Elliott Erwitt’s photograph “Leap on a rainy day,” taken for the hundredth anniversary of the Eiffel Tower? Or the many rainy day images of Henri Cartier-Bresson? His street life pictures wouldn’t have been the same without rain.

Rain photography is indeed an art that opens photo opportunities. You need solid knowledge of photography, a professional camera with high performance in low-light conditions, and a lot of patience. Here’s everything you need to know to add beautiful rain pictures to your portfolio.

Choosing the right gear

Going shooting in the rain, remember about appropriate gear. Because safety, result, and your comfort will depend on it. In terms of gear, there are some vital things for taking rain pictures:

  • A camera that works well in low-light conditions. Invest in a professional DSLR or mirrorless camera with state of the art technology. Rain photography will hardly work with a smartphone camera. You need a wide dynamic range and the possibility to shoot at high ISO for shooting in wet weather and low light. By choosing the right gadget, you’ll get really aesthetic rain pictures that you can use for Instagram, magazines, or even your own exhibition.
  • A raincoat for your camera and one for yourself. When your plan to shoot in inclement weather, keep in mind that there will be a lot of water at the location. Professional cameras are expensive, and you don’t want to risk ruining yours in a single photoshoot where you’ll capture pictures in the rain. You can find waterproof camera cases, lens hoods, and custom rain covers. You can also improvise a raincoat if the rain catches you unprepared: Use a transparent plastic bag and make sure your camera stays dry. And don’t forget about your own comfort. You won’t have enough patience, energy, and creativity if you’re soaking wet. So, when assembling inventory for photoshoots in the rain, put in your backpack a plastic bag, raincoat, and other protective elements.

How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image1

  • A tripod. Some rain scenes need long exposures for a more dramatic effect. Even if you don’t use very slow shutter speeds, a tripod eliminates the risk of blurred images and camera shake. As you know, these undesired defects can spoil a rain photoshoot. Tripod may be needed in different situations. For example, if you choose a night rain photo session, a tripod is a must. 

Camera Settings for Getting Beautiful Pictures of Rain 

Photoshoots in the rain are a special type of shooting. So, you require not only to protect your camera but also to learn the main settings. They’ll help you to implement creative ideas in the best possible way. 

Camera settings depend on the type of photography you do: landscape, urbanism, or portraits in the rain. Your style and the atmosphere of the pictures are also important. The most popular settings below will make the raindrops visible, but you can experiment with shallow depth of field and other settings as well. Bracketing is often used to establish the best exposure. Vary the exposure slightly around the recommended value given by your camera. A camera’s metering system can be tricked by low-light conditions. Here are the most useful settings for rain photography:

  • Medium to high ISO. Rain clouds cover the sun. That is why you observe poor lighting. These are bad conditions for creating rain photography. So, to improve them, adjust ISO. In what way? Use a higher ISO value to cope with low light. It will help you maintain a fast shutter speed and catch the raindrops.
  • Fast shutter speed. When going to the street to implement different rain photography ideas, pay attention to the shutter speed. A realistic image of drops will depend on it. Like any other subject in motion, the rain needs a fast shutter speed. Especially if you focus on splashing water, your camera will need to be very fast. If you want a waterfall image during a nature rain photography trip, you can use a slower shutter speed, but don’t overdo it because you’ll end up with no focal point.
  • Large aperture. Thanks to the aperture, you can control the light penetration and depth of field yourself when shooting rainy scenes. But how? A large aperture allows more light into the camera, which is essential if you want to maintain a fast shutter speed. Nevertheless, for keeping the beautiful rain in focus you need a deep depth of field, which requires a small aperture. Start with f/8 and experiment until you find the perfect balance between shutter speed and depth of field.
  • Use a source of light behind the rain. This is a great technique used by leading photographers to create atmosphere photos on rain nights. What can be a good light source? Look around. Rainy streets can have bright windows or billboards, traffic lights, and other sources of light that can help you make the rain glow. At night, rain can be almost invisible. You need to bring it into focus. Use any source of light that’s available or bring your own reflector.
  • Use the flash in manual mode. Another way to light the raindrops is to use flash. The automatic setting can be too harsh, so use flash in manual mode and choose the intensity you need. Using flash can also help you maintain a high shutter speed. Use the flash when you photograph urban life with street lights or portraits or do any type of commercial photography.
  • Use manual focus. Any photography in a rainy day has its own main object, which is worthy of attention. So, don’t let the camera choose the focal point or you risk focusing on an insignificant part of the scene, distracted from water droplets, puddles, or another main object of the rain shoot. Manual focus gives you control over exposure as well, and you can choose to enhance the brighter or darker parts of the scene.

These recommended settings will help you start your adventure into the world of rain photography. Nevertheless, they aren’t the only settings you can use. Choose your subject and adapt the settings to your style, weather conditions, and location. Rain images feature a wide range of subjects in front of the camera lens: storms, misty autumn rain, rainbows, night rain, tropical rain, and freezing rain. Sometimes the best images break all the rules.

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Artistic compositions for rain photography

Rainy day pictures ask for more artful compositions than other types of photographs. Let the weather inspire you and choose the message you want to convey. Then choose the mood for your rain images and consider all the tools you need. 

Photo editing software like Luminar Neo is one of the best tools for rainy-day photography that can help you correct the exposure and white balance and make all sorts of other adjustments. Luminar Neo is designed by photographers who understand your needs. Besides exposure and other settings, it has many extraordinary Presets that completely change the mood of your rainy-day pictures, and every new version adds more presets. For example, you can use the Dramatic Look from the Creative set to enhance contrast, details, and colors. Every raindrop will gain personality and weight.

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Or you can choose the soft and diffused Preset called Mystic Land from the Landscape set and transform your rain image into something more poetic and delicate. As you see, selecting settings will depend on the result you want to achieve.

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Luminar Neo allows you to modify and save each Preset, add adjustments, and work in layers. It also gives you smart tools for photo retouching and photo organizing from. You can download it and try it for free right now.

While good photo editing software can help you improve the quality of your images, it can’t help you improve your composition from a rainy day shoot. For rain photography, there are some creative compositions that can guide you, but you have to find your own perspectives. Study and practice these four compositions, then move on to your own creative ideas:

  • Reflections. Reflection is an interesting thing that allows seeing your rainy day photo with another eye. You only need to find the main object you want to show in water and other surfaces. Rainy streets are perfect for photographing reflections. Symmetry is a powerful element that attracts the viewer and conveys a strong message. Look for reflections in rain puddles and use your camera in manual mode to be sure you control the exposure and focus.

How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image5Photo by Jack Finnigan

  • Water drops. A small volume of rain liquid is one of the best wet photoshoot ideas. It can turn your photo into an interesting picture. Water drop photography is usually done in a studio or a controlled environment. But the beauty of heavy rain is that it offers perfect conditions for these types of compositions in a natural environment. You need a fast shutter speed and a fast flash as well. Pay attention to the newest mirrorless cameras on the market, as they offer high flash synchronization speeds.
How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image6
Photo by Virgil Cayasa

  • Water splashes. Water splash compositions are also popular in rain images, especially if they are created spontaneously. So, always keep your camera when weather forecasters predict rain. Also, it’s great if your shooting is specially planned. While you won’t have a studio and special lights to do this, on a rainy street you have a lot of water and cars splashing around. You can also do portraits of people playing in the rain, wedding pictures of couples dancing and splashing around, or close-ups of heavy rain falling on hard surfaces.
  • Frame within a frame. With the help of this creative idea, you get more than a photo of a rainy day. This is a picturesque composition in which the focal point is framed in a natural frame. It can be the edge of an umbrella, a roof or a bridge, the branches of a tree, or even a wet pane of glass. You can choose any available natural frame to add layers to your composition.

Beautiful rain moods

Photography in the rain adds artistic value to your compositions. You won’t have just rainy streets or gray landscapes; you’ll have stories. Every story has its own characters and setting, and your role is to build the atmosphere and follow the narrative.

Rain photography gives you the opportunity to work with unique colors and textures. You can experiment with some of the less-used effects and artistic approaches. Rain photography is closer to painting and poetry. It can have the dark side of Edgar Allan Poe or the soft glow of Impressionism. It can have the scary adventure of an Agatha Christie novel or the romanticism of a Hollywood movie. You can find inspiration and rainy-day photoshoot ideas in art museums, movies, music, and literature. You can also find inspiration in yourself and transpose your inner state into images. Here are some guidelines to help you discover the artistic faces of rain photography:

  • Tonal contrast. This means using the same range of colors for the entire frame of rainy photography. You'll have hardly any color contrast. Your rainy image will be like a painting using gradients. This is a great technique for enhancing a certain mood: sadness, if you choose neutral colors; or happiness if you choose bright colors.
  • Muted colors. The art of using muted, unsaturated colors also comes from painting. It gives a soft feeling that can be either dramatic (for example, depicting poverty) or joyful (for example, depicting misty rain on a spring morning). Muted colors are used to emphasize love, mindfulness, and serenity.
  • Low-key photography. Low-key photography means using large areas of dark midtones and shadows. It gives a dramatic mood, sometimes perceived as bleak or scary. So, how to take pictures in the rain by using low key? Add pouring rain to this scene and you’ll have the set of a thriller. Low-key photography requires extra attention to exposure. Use manual mode and expose for the highlights, forcing the camera to correctly expose the bright areas and underexpose the dark areas.
  • Black and white photography. Urban snapshots and rain portrait photography in particular look amazing in black and white. Giving up the colors means more attention to shapes, geometry, and contrast. In a rainy image, the colors don’t bring too many benefits, but shapes, shadows, and reflections do. Black and white photography teaches you to work with just a few important elements and create complex and artful compositions. It also adds character and drama to your images.
  • Macro photography. Such an idea as macro photography is very popular in the photography world. Because it provides stunning results when you see an unnaturally enlarged object in all its detail. Use macro photography ideas in a rainy environment. Water drops, leaves and flowers, muddy shoes, and wet materials look great close up. Rain transforms the scenery, and even the most common elements look different. So, when going to shoot, you already know what objects you need to capture with the camera. Macro photography takes time, so find yourself a good spot, a tripod, and waterproof raincoats for you and your camera.

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Photo by Amin Fahmy

    How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image8
    Photo by Kelly Sikkema

      How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image9
      Photo by 兆航 樊

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          Creative Ideas for Shooting in the Rain 

          You’ve found out how need to keep your gear when taking pictures in the rain, what settings are important, and how to create a special mood in the scene. Great! But sometimes creating amazing pictures is like a puzzle. This often happens because some beginner photographers face a lack of imagination. They wonder how to take photos in the rain. What exactly shoot? If you’re among them, don’t worry! Below, we’ll share some ideas which will help you to get your creative juices flowing. 

          1. Catch the rainbow 

          Do you notice that the sun begins to show its rays immediately after the rain? Prepare your camera because there is a chance to take a rainbow! This miracle of nature in the form of an arc of several colored stripes is usually born when the light is reflected through moist air and scattered. To get incredible rainy photos, put a polarizing filter in your bag to the camera gear. 

          2. Pay attention to the umbrella

          Umbrella is a nice rain photoshoot idea. After all, this inventory can do wonders. It gives the photo shape, texture, and color. You can hide unattractive areas in your scenes with this object. And also it helps you tell stories. For example, a couple of newlyweds hiding under an umbrella behind a light source conveys their romantic mood. 

          3. Watch the rain through the glass of your window

          It’s not necessary to get wet on the street, adjust the focal point, and take all protective inventory. You can take interesting rainy-day photographs indoors. Just watch the cityscapes through the window of your cozy apartment. Don’t pay attention to the fact that the colored roofs of houses, traffic lights, and ancient architecture are not clear. After all, by focusing on the raindrops, you get abstract photography that shows the city from an impressive side. 

          4. Focus on raindrops in puddles 

          Do you want to create a dramatic effect? See the raindrops falling in puddles. If you set your shutter speed correctly and use a tripod, you’ll get the desired result. Longer exposure is excellent for photography raindrops. 

          5. Capture the mood of stormy weather

          Do you notice that the sky hint at an approaching storm? Don’t hurry to run home. After all, this is your star time! It is the dark clouds that give the photo a special mood, the rain wall fills with nostalgia, and the lightning adds dramatic notes. First, hide in a safe place. Put the camera on a tripod, set the aperture between f8 and f14, and set a longer exposure time of between 5 and 10 seconds to catch the lightning. 

          Conclusion: Rain Photography Inspiration 

          Taking pictures in the rain gets you out of your comfort zone. You learn to work in hard conditions and adapt to constantly changing scenery. You learn to take pictures in low-light conditions and consider the weather in your compositions. Rain photography is spectacular and easily wins the public and the critics. Ask photographer Andrew Suryono, whose picture “Orangutan in the Rain” received no less than six awards.

          More than technical skills and endurance, rain requires creativity and engagement with the subject. You need to feel the mood, understand the narrative, and enjoy the artistic work. Experiment with different compositions and effects when shooting photography in the rain, learn to enhance your photographs in post-processing, and add some poetry to your portfolio. Luminar Neo can help a lot with establishing the mood you want without taking too much time. Moreover, you can try Luminar Neo for free by downloading it right now.

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