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How to Photograph Landscapes in the Rain

Rain is a factor of life living in the UK; even more so in my home country of Wales – we do tend to get our fair share! “It is why it’s so lovely and green here!” I always tell people, although this comment is usually met with a half-smile while they put their jacket hood up once again. While the word ‘rain’ and landscape photography usually mean end of play for most photographers, wet weather can create some unique opportunities in terms of atmospheric conditions and the way the landscape can look.

Looking after your kit

With a few well-prepared items, you and your camera can take on whatever the weather throws at you, making the most of the conditions and ultimately keep shooting when others are heading home. Before we even start thinking about locations or ideas, it’s best practice to protect yourself and your equipment, and there are a few items you should pack before heading out.

photograph landscapes rain

Umbrella

Tried and tested to keep the worst of the rain off, and despite an umbrella being exceptionally cumbersome and not really helping when trying to frame shots (unless you’ve got three arms!), it is however the cheapest, and simplest product that will keep you dry while the rain is falling or when you’re walking between shoots.

Your camera bag

Make sure your bag is either waterproof or, at the very least, you have a waterproof cover that you can use to protect it in a matter of seconds. It doesn’t just mean keeping it dry when it’s on your back, either. Once the rain stops, the bag will be placed on the ground which will be wet, so having a cover on it will stop moisture soaking through.

Good camera bags that have rear access to the camera area, allowing you to put your bag down on wet or dirty ground, are ideal. They allow you to access your kit on the dry side and, most importantly, when you’re finished shooting you walk away with the dry side on your back.

Camera covers

Water and electronics rarely mix, and cameras have lots of potential areas around buttons or switches for rain to find its way in. A lot of cameras these days are weather sealed, and you’ll be surprised at how wet you can get them before they start playing up. The odd shower, for instance, and I rarely bother with covers. However, if I know I’m going to be out and in a certain position where rain or sea spray may be relentless, I’ll always opt for a camera cover just to err on the side of caution.

My personal choice is Think Tank Photo’s Hydrophobia range for a true monsoon-resistant level of waterproofing. These are usually tailor-made to suit what body or lenses you use and are quite costly, so for general use and something to keep in the camera bag, a simple freezer bag with a hole cut in the end and rubber bands to hold it all together can be a good alternative.

Towels

I usually use microfibre towels to wipe down cameras, lenses and tripods on outdoor shoots. Cheap, lightweght and pack down quite small, these can be invaluable in keeping your kit dry and your hands. There’s nothing worse than having rain-soaked hands, trying to operate equally wet camera controls. Also, pack some lens wipes/cloth, to wipe away any rogue raindrops on your lens or filters when photographing. Raindrops on the front lens element can really ruin an image, especially if there’s light directly falling on the lens, illuminating any rogue drops.

Waterproofs

Maybe obvious, but I’m still surprised how many photographers I see out wearing insufficient clothing. The best way to dress for a wet day is a lightweight waterproof jacket and some pull-on over trousers. These can pack down small in any bag, meaning you’ll never be without them if caught in some inclement weather, and, once the weather passes, they’re quick and easy to remove.

Once you’re prepared for anything, next up is where to go, what to point your lens at, and why can rainy weather be interesting to photograph. Here’s a few thoughts and ideas to aim for.

Layering your shots

Just like fog, rainy conditions generally produce reduced visibility. This can either be when you’re in misty low clouds, high humidity causing ‘drizzle’, when a rain shower is on its way or has just passed. It will mean that the immediate vicinity will always be obscured slightly by increased moisture.

Using this natural screening together with natural elements can create layering, an aspect which is not immediately possible in dry conditions where visibility is near infinite. Ideas to try out are photographing trees in a woodland, distant hills, or a receding coastline far into the distance. Coupled with wet weather, you can really add great depth to your scenes and ultimately more interest.

photograph landscapes rain

Waterfalls

Undoubtedly, waterfalls always look their best with a good amount of water rushing over them, so they’re great locations to visit when it’s raining. Not only will they look spectacular in full flow, the overcast conditions will help with your exposures too and highlight will be being neutralised whilst retaining shadow details. Use a polarising filter is a good idea too, cutting down on any surface reflections and boosting natural colours.

photograph landscapes rain

Waterdrops

There’s nothing quite like a well-executed close-up image of water drops on leaves, flowers, or plants. Plus, the best bit is that you don’t need to travel far to capture them too!

photograph landscapes rain

Any foliage or flowers in your garden or local park, with interesting shapes, can work brilliantly. Because we’re focusing on a small scale, the surroundings are rarely included in the shot. Use a macro lens for frame-filling close ups of reflections in the droplets.

Read more: How to Photograph Abstracts in Nature

Weather fronts

Dramatic looking clouds in your images can provide impact and give a moody atmosphere to them. Either side of any downpour and you can expect shapely cloud formations filling the skies, or even backlit/silhouetted downbursts on the horizon especially if you’re on the coast shooting out to sea. Images like this can really ‘sum up’ a season so always be on the lookout before the rain reaches you and ultimately closes down any visibility.

photograph landscapes rain

Long Exposures

There’s no denying raindrops are a pain to control on any image, they ruin what sometimes can be one chance images, especially with fleeting light between clouds. One way to combat this is to use a lens hood, keeping the front element dry in most situations. However, when using filter holders, lens hoods aren’t always a viable option leaving the filters prone to collecting raindrops. Even if they have special waterproof coatings, smaller drops will still cling on. These are quite common conditions on the coast where the rain in the air seems to blow around like a light spray. A good workaround for this is to use a long exposure technique – obviously only if the image calls for it. When using filters, chances are you’re trying to shoot using neutral density filters and the aim is to slow the shutter speed. The trick here is that whilst the camera is exposing the sensor, you can wipe the filters with a lens cloth every few seconds; as long as you don’t hold you hand in place for too long, it won’t be rendered on the sensor and you will end up with a lovely raindrop-free, long exposure image.

See the example here, both the same 1-minute long exposure in the same conditions which were misty rain whirling around in the air. One was left unwiped and the other wiped with a cloth every few seconds throughout the exposure.

photograph landscapes rain
A 1-minute long exposure with no wiping of the filter during the shot.
photograph landscapes rain
A 1-minute long exposure with wiping of the filter during the shot every few seconds.

Rainbows

Tricky to predict, generally short-lived, but magic when they appear, rainbows can add that extra sparkle to an already well-composed image. They’re usually found after a rain shower when the clouds start to break, meaning you will need to be out while it’s raining and ready to photograph as the sun starts to shine.

photograph landscapes rain

Rainbows are better photographed as part of a scene, so in most cases you’ll need to compose your image ahead of time and hope that all the factors fall into place. You can also be lucky and stumble across one, but some pre-visualisation will reward you with a stronger image. In most cases, you’ll want to go wide if the complete arch is visible, but sometimes it’s good to shoot a little tighter and compose it with a strong foreground. Also, don’t forget to use a circular polariser too; it will enhance the colours greatly in your image.

Have you been photographing in the rain this season? Share some of your best shots in the comments below!

Drew Buckley is an award-winning landscape and wildlife photographer based in Pembrokeshire, UK. He's a regular contributor to the very best of wildlife, landscape and photography magazines and has his own books published. Self-taught, Drew has always had a passion for combining the great outdoors with his love of photography. He also runs his own photographic workshops.

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