Splashes in Your Frame
When it pours, there is an exciting and rare theatre waiting to be captured by you. Digantika Mitra shares some easy ways to seize rain effectively.
This story was originally published in July 2010.
When it is pouring, you may try to capture a drenched landscape that looks rather refreshing. Alternatively, you may photograph people running frantically for shelter. Or you may gaze towards the horizon and capture the theatrical, looming clouds. But wait a second. Why not shoot the rain itself? Your subject could be as simple as droplets of water hanging from the branch of a tree reflecting the objects around, or the rain enveloping the cityscape. We tell how you can make the best of these photo opportunities.
Experiment with Shutterspeed
As rain is a moving subject, you have the option of either freezing the raindrops mid-air or capturing them as blurred streaks cutting through the frame. To freeze rain, you need to have a fast shutterspeed of at least 1/250sec. While shooting such images, a wide aperture like f/2.8 will help you constrict the depth in your image effectively. You can choose to focus only the frozen raindrops, so that it appears like a thick translucent curtain over your main background. This can be used effectively to portray a soft-focus feel, especially if the background is vibrant and colourful.
Alternatively, you can use a slow shutterspeed like 1/30sec to portray the motion of the falling droplets. Depending on how slow a shutterspeed you use, you can capture really long streaks of rain too.
Make Use of Natural Light
The lighting conditions and the direction of the sunlight are essential to capturing rain effectively. For instance, backlighting can help raindrops glow prominently by highlighting them. Use Evaluative metering and underexpose by a stop so that the background looks dark and only the specular highlights on the raindrops stand out. You can also try using sidelighting—it will light up raindrops partially and add a glamorous three-dimensional effect to the overall scene.
In the monsoon, you may come across many situations in which the sun is out but it has just started to rain. You will be able to capture the sunlight reflecting on water droplets, enhancing the beauty of each droplet with a sparkle.
Even though the main subject is the rain itself, the ambient surroundings play a huge role in the mood that is portrayed by your photograph. Overcast days are ideal for shooting rain because of the atmosphere created by the soft lighting conditions. It creates a different character all together. The light keeps changing its hue from eye-catching golden to varied shades of orange, yellow, pink and blue.
Work with Ambient Artificial Light
During a shower, raindrops create an abstract halo effect around a street lamp making an interesting photograph. Suppose you are shooting droplets of water on a glass pane, try and include a light source like a street lamp in the background. This will help the water droplets look more vibrant and make them stand out clearly. You can keep the light source out of focus so that the viewer’s attention is on the water droplets. You can create another interesting effect—that of capturing the water drops as bokeh by blurring them out.
Freeze with Flash
When an off-camera flash lights a water droplet at an angle, the droplet acts like a lens and reflects the light back, thus creating a sparkling effect. Position the flash at different angles to get different kinds of effects. You can also use the onboard flash of your camera to freeze a few raindrops in the frame. The droplets on which the light falls will freeze mid-air. The rest of the falling droplets will appear as streaks.
Switch off Automation
The Auto White Balance mode of the camera has a tendency of overcorrecting the tones in the scene, especially when the weather conditions are dull and overcast. To avoid this, use the Cloudy White Balance setting to ensure that your rain images convey the natural ambience that your eyes can see.
Bring in Blue Tones
You can also get creative and experiment with White Balance. Switching to the Tungsten White Balance will introduce a unique blue hue to your image that can actually emphasise the feel of a storm. Alternatively, if you shoot using the RAW format, you can change the WB while postprocessing to get the same effect. The colour cast dominates the image and arouses mystery, awe and a sense of pensive calm that is very typical of the monsoon atmosphere.
Use Grain to Your Advantage
In the monsoons, the light levels are often so low that you may need to use a high ISO even in the daytime. While this may increase the noise in the image, you can actually use this to your advantage. The noise or grain-like effect can add a distinctive touch to your rain photographs, especially if you convert your images to black and white.
Avoid Camera Shake and Improper Focus
When it rains, the atmosphere is laden with mist. To get details despite the haze, ensure that the direction of the light successfully highlights the raindrops. If you are using a slow shutterspeed to capture the motion of the raindrops, do not forget to stabilise your camera by using a tripod or by keeping it on a flat surface like the bonnet of a car. Unless it is raining really heavily, autofocus may not be able to focus on the rain itself, which is why you may need to focus manually for best results.
Enhance with Filters
Filters are an important accessory to carry for rain photography. Always use a UV or protective filter in heavy rain—it is a lot easier to wipe the rain off a filter, rather than a lens. Some modern-day filters are even better—they have a Multi-Resistant Coating that does not allow the raindrops to settle on the filter at all, thus making them an invaluable tool if rain is your preferred subject.
If you wish to capture streaks of rain and the ambient light is a little too much, you can use a Neutral Density filter to cut out the amount of light entering the lens, thus enabling you to use a slow shutterspeed.
Vignetting, for instance, is a great trick to accentuate the rain-like feel in your images. Stacking a number of filters on a lens can help you add a beautiful vignette to your pictures, or you can even try attaching a cardboard cutout in front of your lens. Alternatively, most software like Photoshop and GIMP allow you to darken the corners and add a vignette after you have shot the image.
Get Creative with Your Rain Images
A photograph that has rain as the subject need not be restricted to a rainshower in front of a beautiful background. You can interpret rain in different ways—for instance, you can shoot the ripples and coronets that are formed when the rainwater hits the earth.
You can also try framing your picture in interesting ways. Instead of shooting a horizontal or vertical frame, your camera can be angled in the same direction in which the rain water is falling. You can even shoot a number of pictures of a rainsoaked scene and create a time-lapse video of the downpour!
The possibilities are endless—the next time it starts raining, ensure that your camera is well-protected and ready for an interesting photoshoot.