Friday, September 16, 2016


We've heard of dancing in the rain, but shooting in the rain? Why not.

In this day and age, a lot of photographers seem to be obsessed with making every image super sharp, super saturated, and super everything else. As the artist Jackson Pollock once said, "I like it when I don't have total control." Photography, to me, is art, not science--although all product and software companies are good at convincing us otherwise.

While I do need to protect my equipment, I have discovered some simple, low tech, and creative approaches to shooting in conditions that make most people put their cameras away--rain.

 There are four reasons why I like to shoot when it's raining.
 1) It's a challenge--I like challenges
 2) Colors look different--I like variety in my images
 3) Images create mood, feelings, sensations, and sometimes surprises
 4) There is less detail and sharpness in the images--less is more

Like many photographers, there was a time when it wouldn't even occur to me to shoot in the rain. As my photography evolved, or maybe I evolved, I started realizing that, hey, maybe I can turn a negative into a positive. I now look forward to a rainy day. Instead of moping and complaining about not having a nice sunny day, I go out and see what I can find.

I do not have the desire for everything to always be clear and clearly identifiable. I do not always strive for sharpness and fine edges throughout the entire image. As a photo artist, that can be boring. Don't get me wrong, I do have many images in my collection that are sharp and clear, but I like variety, a mixture of applications, approaches, and interpretations. 

That said, here is my first example. I had heard about this really cool old stage coach that was a few miles outside of Boulder, Colorado. I set out to find it one day. Soon after I saw it, it started raining. My right brain woke me up and shouted, "Hey, take what is given.What does this moment give you?" Carpe diem!!!

I shut the engine off to reduce vibration and with my arms steadily on the steering wheel,
I shot it right through the windshield, allowing the out-of-focus rain drops on the windshield to give me this Impressionistic, dream-like effect. 

I was downtown Denver, Colorado working on a project for RTD, the local bus/train transportation system. Of course, it started raining. But, I liked what city life was transforming into as a result of the rain. I proceeded to take advantage of the situation. 
I could have edited the image through post processing to bring out more detail, more color, more everything, but I decided to leave the scene muted--the way it looked and felt to me. You can feel the wetness, the dampness, the coolness. On a clear day, there would be no light reflections on the street, no wet surfaces, no umbrellas.
I was standing on a corner under a large awning.

It was a cool rainy day in Boulder, Colorado on a weekend. I went to its famous Pearl Street Mall specifically to photograph in the rain. I knew there would be a lot of people there with umbrellas. As I watched people hanging on to each other in the cold wet rain, colorful umbrellas everywhere, and rain pouring down, I knew it was going to be a good day for photography. As I stood carefully on the corner under an awning, I started photographing people as they uncomfortably waited for the light to turn green. As they started walking, 
I panned my camera as I followed their movements across the street. In other words, 
I followed them with my camera, set at a slow shutter speed, as they walked, knowing that everything around them would be blurred. I must have spent a good 20-30 minutes shooting. This is one of my favorite images from that cold and dreary day. Carpe diem!

Historic Eureka Springs, Arkansas. A sudden downpour on a May morning. Time to run inside? No--start shooting. I just happened to have my camera with me. The moment it started raining, I knew I had to take advantage of the fact that I just happened to be right downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go. I scoped out two areas on Spring Street where I could include the historic stone buildings in the rain. I wasn't disappointed.

I quickly pulled the car over by the curb, set my emergency lights, and shot through my side window for this one. The result is a combination Salvador Dali and Monet.

I then moved forward to a another nearby spot I thought would also give me a good composition. I knew that section of town well. Again, I wasn't disappointed. For this shot, 
I also pulled over, but this time I shot through the windshield for a better composition. Monet, thank you--I am taking advantage of your artistic legacy.

So, next time it rains, don't run for cover--run to cover it! Add some diversity to your photos.
From a right brain perspective, loosen up. Concentrate on getting good compositions first. And, not all rain photos look good--they must have an appealing, interesting subject and good compositions. Don't get overly concerned with how it's going to turn out. Your images won't look "perfect," if you're going by left brain definitions of "perfect." But they will be creative and fun to look at. From a left brain perspective, take quick exposure test shots and adjust your exposure compensation dial as needed--quickly (very quickly). Don't use a small, or large number f/stop--you don't want the actual rain drops or rain in sharp focus. As a general guide, f/2.8-f/10. And, don't focus on the windshield when shooting from your car--use manual focus (not auto focus) and focus on the subject, in order to get those nice blurs and mysterious distortions. 

Have fun with it. To paraphrase a former student, don't be so linear!