How to Master the Art of Rain Photography

April 03

17 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 special gear and settings, 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.

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.

How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image1
Elliott ErwittEiffel tower 100th anniversary. Paris, France. 1989. 

Rain photography is indeed an art. 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 and settings

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.
  • A raincoat for your camera and one for yourself. Professional cameras are expensive, and you don’t want to risk ruining yours in a single photoshoot. 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.

How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image2

  • 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. If you choose a night rain photo session, a tripod is a must.

Camera settings depend on the type of photography you do. 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 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. Use a higher ISO value to cope with the low light. It will help you maintain a fast shutter speed and catch the raindrops.
  • Fast shutter speed. Like any other subject in motion, 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, you can use a slower shutter speed, but don’t overdo it because you’ll end up with no focal point.
  • Large aperture. 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. 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 in 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 rain drops 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 flash when you photograph urban life or portraits or do any type of commercial photography.
  • Use manual focus. Don’t let the camera choose the focal point or you risk focusing on an insignificant part of the scene. 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, the weather conditions, and the location. Rain images feature a wide range of subjects: storms, misty autumn rain, rainbows, night rain, tropical rain, 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 3 can help you correct the exposure and white balance and make all sorts of other adjustments. Luminar 3 is designed by photographers who understand your needs. It has many extraordinary Looks that completely change the mood of your rainy day pictures, and every new version adds more Looks (presets). For example, you can use the Dramatic Look from the Creative set to enhance contrast, details, and colors. Every rain drop will gain personality and weight.

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Or you can choose the soft and diffused Look called Mystic Land from the Landscape set and transform your rain image into something more poetic and delicate.

How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image5

Luminar 3 allows you to modify and save each Look, add filters, and work in layers. It also gives you smart tools for photo retouching and photo organizing. You can download it and try it for free right now.

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While good photo editing software can help you improve the quality of your images, it can’t help you improve your composition. 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. 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 Image6Photo by Jack Finnigan

  • Water drops. Water drop photography is usually done in a studio or a controlled environment. But the beauty of a 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 Image7
Photo by Virgil Cayasa

  • Water splashes. Water splash compositions are also popular in rain images. 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. 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 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. 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.
How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image8
Photo by Amin Fahmy

  • 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.
How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image9
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

  • 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. 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.
How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image10
Photo by 兆航 樊

  • Black and white photography. Urban snapshots 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.
How to Master the Art of Rain Photography Image11
  • Macro photography. 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. Macro photography takes time, so find yourself a good spot, a tripod, and waterproof raincoats for you and your camera.

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 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, learn to enhance your photographs in post-processing, and add some poetry to your portfolio. Luminar 3 can help a lot with establishing the mood you want without taking too much time. Moreover, you can try Luminar 3 for free by downloading it right now.

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