Landscape Photography in Rainy Weather

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Landscape photography is about nature, the great outdoors. But, outdoor weather is also one of biggest challenges of landscape photography. How do you practice landscape photography in bad weather? How hard is it to create landscape photographs in rainy weather? Bad weather, including rain and overcast skies, are what separate the casual hobbyist from the true professional photographers. If you’re looking for ways to take better landscape pictures in poor weather conditions, this article will show you some great ideas and simple tips.

Nasty outside you say?  Don’t let that hold you back.  You can take amazing photos when it’s like that.  Learn how to create awesome landscape photography in rainy weather.

In this article, professional landscape photographer, Loyd Towe, shares his simple photography tips for shooting photos in rainy weather. You can visit his blog at https://www.simplephototips.com for more awesome photography tips and insights.


Rain, rain go away

If you’ve been doing photography for more than a few months, you’ve likely made a comment similar to this: “Well, I’d like to be out taking some photos, but the weather is terrible”.

I live in a part of the country where it rains, snows, rains, it’s windy, rains, hail, rains and volcanos.  Plus, it rains a lot.   Yes, I live in the pacific northwest.  Portland, Oregon to be exact.  As I write this on the 8th of July, it rained a little this morning.  Yesterday too.   So, I’ve had to learn to work around, and with, the weather.

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Pine needles after a rainstorm (Photo credit: Loyd Towe)

Don’t let that keep you down

I am here to tell you that you can go out and take great photos in the rain.  I am not talking about a torrential downpour or advocating risking your life in dangerous conditions.  But a little rain shouldn’t stop you.

The photo below was taken on morning of December 24th, 2011.  It had rained all night and was still raining where we woke up.   We set off to visit with family and as we were going by the lake I had to stop for a photo.

This is Lake Crescent near Forks, Washington. (I’ll pause while fans of Twilight calm down.)

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Lake Crescent near Forks, Washington, 2011 (Photo credit: Loyd Towe)

Yes, it can be done

Now that we’ve established that it is possible to do great landscape photography in rainy weather, let’s go over some of the requirements.

Going out in the rain is going to require just a little extra planning and prepping.   The biggest concern is keeping your gear as dry as possible.  Is your camera bag water resistant?  Most are at least a little bit.

I recommend a couple of extra things you should have with you when photographing outside in rainy conditions:

  • Pint, quart or gallon Ziplock style bags, to put small stuff in like a spare battery
  • A couple of dry towels in case some water gets on things
  • At least one, probably two microfiber cloths to wipe drops off the lens
  • I like to take a can of compressed air to blow water out of nooks and crannies

Pro tip (warning): By the way, never use canned air to blow inside the camera body.  Canned air propellant is extremely cold and will cause freezing on contact.  This will damage your camera’s shutter, sensor and other sensitive parts.

Bad weather photography ideas - landscape photography in bad weather -landscape photos in the rainy weather - landscape photography in the rain - rain photography ideas - overcast landscape photography - how to take better photos in bad weather - microfiber cloth
Microfiber cloths are inexpensive and indispensable for outdoor camera work.
Bad weather photography ideas - landscape photography in bad weather -landscape photos in the rainy weather - landscape photography in the rain - rain photography ideas - overcast landscape photography - how to take better photos in bad weather - can of compressed air
Can of compressed air for blowing water out of nooks and crannies. DO NOT use inside a camera.
Bad weather photography ideas - landscape photography in bad weather -landscape photos in the rainy weather - landscape photography in the rain - rain photography ideas - overcast landscape photography - how to take better photos in bad weather - ziploc bags for protecting your stuff
Keep your spare batteries and other dry goods in a ziploc or similar plastic bag.

Setting things up a little different (equipment)

I normally like to use a tripod and a remote shutter release when shooting landscapes.  In the rain, that’s not going to work out.   You are not going to want to mount up your camera and let it sit there in the rain getting wet.  Plus, sometimes rain comes with some wind as well, and that will further complicate tripod mounting.

Therefore, you’re going to be hand holding the camera.  In bright sunlight this is fine because of the amount of light.  The shutter speed is going to be fairly fast so no blur from camera shake.  However, when it’s raining it tends to be a little darker out.

By the way, I have tried these:  Altura Photo Rain Cover for DSLR Cameras, but for rainy weather I personally prefer hand holding my camera. 

I should mention too, that I always keep my lens hood on, unless there is a good reason not to.  This will add some additional protection against raindrops getting on the lens.

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Use your lens hood, even at night in the rain to protect your front lens element from falling droplets.

Camera settings for landscape photography in rainy weather

Dealing with dark moody skies is going to require some slightly different settings to make sure things come out ok.

Traditional landscape photography usually means a higher F/Stop to increase the depth of field.  But that’s going to force the shutter to stay open longer.  Not a good idea when you are hand holding. 

So, my recommendation is to open up the aperture to at least F/4, maybe even F/2.8 to let in more light.   You can also bump the iso up to 800 or even more.  If you can’t go lower than F/5.6 that’s ok.  Just increase the ISO a little more.

What you want to do is keep the shutter speed higher, at least 1/focal length.  I.e. if your lens is 135mm that would be a shutter speed of 1/135 approx.   However, I would not go slower than 1/60.  Personally, I never go below 1/90 when I am hand holding.

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Larger aperture = narrower depth of field

With the aperture set at F/4 or F/2.8, it’s possible for things in the foreground to become out of focus.  You just need to keep this in mind when composing a scene.   One way to make sure things are reasonably in focus is to turn off auto focus on the lens and adjust manually.

MORE: HOW TO TAKE BETTER MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY

Just observe the scene, adjust the focus ring until the far distance is sharp and the near distance is acceptable.   This may involve a little trade off.  Or you may need to adjust the composition to eliminate the foreground objects that are not in focus.

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Notice how some of the waves in the foreground are sharp; whereas other features are blurry? This photo was taken with a fairly large aperture setting for this scene (@ f/2.8).

You may even want to use a little blurring as an artistic feature if it looks ok.  There is no rule that says every single object in the image has to be in sharp focus.  See cover photo of the pine needles.

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Blurry backgrounds and sharp close features are indicative of a large aperture settings (as well as how close you to your subject).

Safety first

When you are going out in the rain, there are some things to think about with regards to personal safety. Such as: rain has a tendency to make things a little slippery. Watch your footing.

Be careful of lightning.  Yeah, it’s always awesome to get some lightning in your photos. Just make sure you personally are not in danger. Lightning should be far away at all times!  Use the “flash-to-bang” method of estimating lightning distance. 5 seconds between flash and bang is equal to 1 mile. 10 seconds is 2 miles and so forth.

Location, location, location

As with all landscape photography, the scene matters.  Some locations just naturally lend themselves to rainy weather. And no location is better than the coast / beach.

Moody cloud layers, splashing waves, falling rain creating a soft misty look, wind whipping spray from the wave tops, rocks in the mist, sea birds swirling.   The coast is a great place for landscape photography in rainy weather.

Below is a photo I took at Cannon Beach on the coast of Oregon.

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Cannon Beach, Oregon (Photo credit: Loyd Towe)

More scene ideas for landscape photography in rainy weather

Here are 10 bad weather photography ideas for you on locations/scenes to try out.  These are places that tend to look good when they are wet:

  1. Middle of a straight road running away from you, interesting terrain on the roadsides
  2. Beachfront boardwalk with trees and flags whipping in the wind
  3. A bridge starting to disappear in the rainy mist
  4. Wide vista with dark clouds and obvious cloud bursts in the distance
  5. Just about any place with distant lightning
  6. Just about any place with a rainbow
  7. City streets at night
  8. Puddle reflections
  9. A forest
  10. Close-up macro photography of wet surfaces, e.g., leaves, water droplets

Conclusion

I hope I’ve inspired you that you can successfully do landscape photography in rainy weather!  It really comes down to a tolerance for person discomfort more than anything.  No special equipment, a little planning and some alternate settings and you are good to go.

Let’s get out there and do some photography in the rain!

Bad weather photography ideas - landscape photography in bad weather -landscape photos in the rainy weather - landscape photography in the rain - rain photography ideas - overcast landscape photography - how to take better photos in bad weather - Loyd Towe professional photographer
Loyd Towe

Loyd Towe (last name rhymes with how) is a professional photographer living and working in Portland, Oregon. Loyd has been doing all types of photography for over 13 years, but he is focused on fine art landscape photography.  His blog is https://www.simplephototips.com

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