Photography on a Rainy Day

Mist and and rain clouds hover over the village of Kunoy on the island of Kunoy in the Faroe Islands.

Can I Tell You a Secret?

I love the rain. When I was a kid I spent long hours staring out at the rain through the living room window. Later in life I often enjoyed walking in the rain, properly attired of course. Then it stopped raining in my part of the world.

In large parts of Australia we experienced 10 years of significantly reduced rainfall. Over more recent years the situation has improved dramatically in Melbourne, where I currently reside. Gardens are thriving and reservoirs, once again, are holding large quantities of life sustaining water.

There's no wonder that I feel good when it rains, despite the fact that the apartment I live in is prone to flooding. However, more often than not, when it does rain, it seems to be a major event which often causes damage. I now look back fondly to those much more frequent days of gentle, soaking rain I remember from my youth.

People enjoying a drink amidst a vividly lit street scene in the old town of Salzburg on a wet summer's evening.

Photographing In The Rain | The Approach

Now the fact that it's raining doesn't mean that you or your camera gear has to get wet. You could stay under a tree or verandah and record the world around you. In some cases you might make interesting, even humorous images of people moving through that rain-sodden environment. And that's fine. But, rather than recording a space, I prefer moving through and exploring it at, I hope, a deeper level. 

Now I'm a lazy as anyone else on wet days. I love kicking back on the couch, though it does give me the opportunity to process photos and prepare blog posts. But traveling is different. Due to time and budget constraints its hard to stay inside during inclement weather.

The Solution

My approach is to see such times as an opportunity. Wet surfaces, when lit, glow and colors become more saturated. Likewise, at night, rain-bearing clouds hang heavily above a surreal, neon-lit urban landscape.

This photo was made, while sheltering in my car from heavy rain and gale force winds, in the town of Vidareidi, the northernmost settlement in the Faroe Islands.

Keeping Your Camera Dry

There’s a variety of ways by which you can keep your camera dry. I’ve used a special purpose, heavy duty plastic waterproof housing, into which the camera is inserted. It works, as far as keeping the camera dry, but I found it very hard to work with and, as a consequence, making photos was no fun. It also filled quite a bit of space in my camera bag and, after a single outing, I decided not to pack it again.

I can remember, in a pinch, poking a hole in a plastic shopping carry bag. The camera and lens sits inside the bag and the end of the lens protrudes through the hole in the bag. You pop your hands through the bags carry handles to access the various controls on the camera and lens.

It’s okay at a pinch, but still an awkward system with which to work. What’s more if you end up wrapping the bag quite tightly around the camera you end up creating a rather humid micro environment. As a result moisture is likely to form inside the bag which can work it’s way onto and into your camera. Do be careful about that. At the very least ensure you let air into the bag regular to prevent those water droplets forming on the inside of the bag.

A simple solution that’s worked for me is a small, thick hand towel. You know the kind of one that you often find in your hotel’s bathroom. I’ve successfully draped one of these towels over my camera and lens, for short periods of time, in relatively heavy rain and it’s done a good job to absorb the rain and keep the camera body and the lens casing dry.

To ensure the front glass element of the lens or filter remains dry it’s important to point your camera downwards and then quickly raise it when it’s time to make the image. You could, of course, drape the hand towel over the front of the lens. Personally I simply take it in and out of my camera bag or, alternatively, from underneath my waterproof raincoat when it’s time to make the image. The hand towel can then be used simply to dry the camera off after each use.

The hand towel will also help protect your camera and lens if you insist on making photos in the rain, with your camera mounted onto a tripod. I’ve done it, but be prepared to move your camera gear back and forth between tripod and camera bag under such conditions. And also make sure you’re mopping up water whenever you do. Needless to say you may also need to employee a lens cleaning cloth or lens tissues to constantly wipe the front glass element of your lens or filter.

Under conditions of relatively high humidity you might find moisture forming on the front of your lens when there’s a filter in place. It may then be necessary to remove the filter for the duration of the session. At times like this it’s important to have a spare filter case in which to temporarily store your filter.   

A Word Of Warning and Disclaimer

Making photos in the rain is something most cameras and lenses are not designed for. It’s important to understand and accept that you do so at your own risk. Not all cameras are designed equally in relation to water resistant properties so do be careful.

Beautiful color along this backstreet on a rainy day in Salzburg, Austria.

How to Fill In a Rainy Day on the Road

So there I was on a grey, rainy day in Salzburg, Austria. Fortunately I'd already spent a bit of time in some of the city's more picturesque open spaces such as the beautiful Mirabell Gardens. It seemed like a good day to explore some of the old town's narrow streets. The overhanging buildings would provide my camera and lens a degree of protection from the falling rain. It worked a treat and I was able to photograph without too much trouble.

I like the amount of information within the scene and the slight sense of compression resulting from the use of the 65 mm focal length. The sweep of the street leads the eye through the photo and suggests what might exist beyond the edges of the frame. And that's kind of interesting, don't you think?

Next time you experience a rainy day, consider grabbing your camera and committing photography. It works for me.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru