You’ve been saving up your money and vacation days all year and now your big photography trip is finally happening! You’ve scoured the internet for the best travel photography tips and researched your destination. Only trouble is–yikes!–it’s raining and the weather looks miserable for the whole week. You can either sit in the hotel bar bemoaning your fate, or you can throw on a rain poncho and get out there and take some photos.
Truth is, if great photos are the goal, nothing could be worse than a week of clear blue skies and bright sun. Besides, those harshly lit, midday shots are the same ones everyone else is coming home with. Sure, it would be nice to lounge on the beach all day, enjoying beautiful weather and have some nice puffy clouds roll in for sunrise and sunset, but you know what? That rarely happens.
The most spectacular light and dramatic skies usually happen when the sun is breaking through the storm clouds. If you’re fortunate enough to have a storm rolling in or breaking up during golden hours, those will be the best photos of the week.
12 Travel Photography Tips To Get Great Photos In Rainy Weather
So, what can you photograph when the weather is bad? Here’s a list of subjects you should still get out and photograph, in spite of the rain.
When life hands you rain, photograph waterfalls. They’re usually tall, so it’s reasonable to compose in a way that cuts out the dull, grey sky. They can be challenging to photograph at any time because of the spray, so a little rain won’t make much difference. The diffused light will keep you from having blown out highlights on the water and black shadows on the rocks. If the skies are fairly dark, your shutter speeds may be slow enough for those creamy, flowing water shots without needing a neutral density filter.
You’ll need a tripod and a rain cover for your camera to keep your camera safe. Throw a microfibre cloth over your lens to keep water droplets off it between shots. If you do get water drops on your lens, I find it better to dab than to wipe. Use your lens hood to help keep your lens dry.
You don’t get rainbows without the rain. If you’re out in the rain and the sun pops out, put the sun at your back and start scanning the sky for a rainbow. Even a fairly mundane scene can be transformed by a rainbow. There’s usually a lovely, glowing quality to the light when these conditions occur. Don’t let it go to waste!
Ever tried photographing a flower in harsh sunlight? Unless you were using fill flash, I’ll bet you weren’t very impressed with the results. Overcast days are the perfect time to photograph flowers, tiny creatures, and fine details. The overcast sky is like a giant softbox, giving you even light with no harsh shadows.
Some macro photographers carry around a spray bottle because they think that plants, spider webs, and even insects look more interesting covered in glistening water droplets. You can save yourself the trouble, since nature has done that work for you. You can also save yourself the ethical dilemma, since spraying unsuspecting delicate insects or the homes they’ve put so much energy into really isn’t doing them any good.
On hot, sunny days, most wild animals are deep in the forest, trying to get away from the bugs and sleeping through the heat. When it’s cool, overcast, and even raining, those animals become much more active and will be out foraging for food. This can be your chance to get photos of many animals that are normally only active in the early morning or late evening. This is great because, during the day, there’s enough light to keep you from having to crank your ISO to 6400.
Fog is a frequent companion of rain and can transform any boring old scene into a mystical dreamscape. Rolling hills or seascapes with plunging cliffs can look flat and one dimensional in a photo. However, fog can add depth, mood, and atmosphere to a scene, giving it more dimension. Fog is hands down my favourite weather condition for taking landscape photos.
Related Article: Ultimate guide to fog photography.
The very first trip I went on after I got my first DSLR camera, I visited Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. I got up super early to drive there for sunrise and I was devastated when there was no sunrise, only fog. I took a bunch of photos and came back the next day, when the weather was “better”. Guess what? The fog photos were some of my favourites from the whole trip. The blue sky, bright sun, and tourists everywhere photos from the next day…meh.
When it rains, head into the forest. The green leaves and moss pop when they’re wet. Use a circular polarizer to cut down on glare. Dense trees help block a lot of the rain, so even a downpour can feel like light showers. Midday sunlight turns the forest into a dappled mess of highlights and shadows. What looks like a nice composition to your eyes is chaos in a photo. Once again, overcast skies and soft light will solve that dilemma for you.
Rainy days are an excellent time to go out in a city or town for some street photography. Picture an intersection full of umbrellas as people cross the street, reflections in puddles, and weathered faces against stormy skies. The opportunities for evenly lit photos that capture a real mood or emotion are endless. Perhaps people’s true selves are a little closer to the surface and easier to capture when they’re rushing through the rain.
To shoot portraits outside, you often need to carry around a ton of expensive lights, modifiers, diffusers, and stands. But when it’s cloudy you can take advantage of the biggest softbox of them all–the overcast sky. It doesn’t get much more flattering than that. Besides, you’re trying to capture the person, not the beautiful sky.
8. Art and Architecture
Sometimes, the weather is just too nasty to be outside. I get it, even I have limits. Those are perfect days to head to museums, art galleries, interpretive centres, and iconic buildings. I always try to photograph and edit these subjects in creative ways. Use novel angles and perspectives, photograph the details, and take shots that are more abstract than literal.
It can be challenging to make a photo of someone else’s art “your own”. I mean, you can’t just walk up and snap a photo of the Mona Lisa and call it a great photo. It’s a completely unoriginal and uninspired photo of a great work of art. On the other hand, taking a photo of dozens of tourists holding out their iPhones for photos of the Mona Lisa would be a creative work, with a message of its own. (Although, at this point, probably trite and overdone, as well. Just an example, not an instruction.) Photography is all about overcoming challenges, if you didn’t love a good challenge, you wouldn’t be here!
9. Sunrise and Sunset
Sunrise and sunset tend to be times of day when the weather changes. (Based on my personal observation, not necessarily a scientific fact). Even if the weather has been lousy all day (or night), you should still try to get outside and keep an eye on the sky. If the storm clouds break up at the right time, you’ll get blazing red clouds, sun rays, and all of those awesome light conditions photographers live for.
You don’t want clear, empty skies for sunset. You don’t want a solid wall of grey, either. Mostly, you don’t want to be sulking in your motel room when the clouds break up and amazing things start to happen.
10. Popular Landmarks
If there’s a stunning geological feature on your itinerary, you can rest assured that it has been photographed by millions of tourists and at least thousands of photographers– and that’s a modest estimate for some locations. The thing is, most of the tourists and a good chunk of the photographers visited when the weather was fine. The world doesn’t need another blue sky photo of Horseshoe Bend, in all likelihood, your only hope of getting an outstanding or unique shot is if you’re lucky enough to get some remarkable light during stormy conditions. If you visit these places during inclement weather, you’ll often have the place to yourself, when you otherwise would have been jostling with crowds just for a spot.
11. Black and White
In the digital age, black and white is usually a choice we make after the fact. However, the results are usually best if the photo is composed with black and white conversion in mind from the start. Everything can seem dull and grey on a nasty weather day, so remove colour from the equation altogether. Look for contrast when composing your image and plan to make it black and white photo during post processing.
There are few things you’re likely to record with your camera that have as much dramatic impact as lightning blazing across the sky. If you can find a safe and sheltered place to set up during a thunderstorm, it almost doesn’t matter what you have in the foreground. The results are probably going to be more interesting that 98% of the photos out in the world.
The key to capturing lightning is to play the odds. Take more frame and use longer exposure times to try capturing one or more lightning strikes in a shot. If your camera has an intervelometer, set it to do a time lapse so it will keep taking frame after frame. If your thunderstorm happens at night, you’re all set to use a long exposure. During the day, it helps to use a neutral density filter to allow a longer shutter speed.
By now you’ve probably realized the real question is: what should you do if your vacation is plagued by gorgeous weather and clear skies? Perhaps that’s a topic for another day!
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