Shooting in the Rain (on a Budget)

UPDATE

I have updated this with some more recent rain-shoot images/portraits. But more importantly, at the very bottom I included a list of items I may pack for a rain shoot or water-related portrait session.

Leave a comment if you find this helpful! :)













The conversation of canceling a shoot due to the rain came up recently, and I always remind folks how much money production crews spend bringing in a fake-rain setup. So its pretty awesome when Mother Nature provides rain for free.

Shooting in the rain can be a lot of fun. Your subject can be anything from a couple's portrait, kids splashing, cars, and wet streets. The results can be extremely unique.

But most folks would prefer to avoid any kind of wet situation with their camera ... for fear of damage. Or they may prefer to avoid rain because they don't wanna get wet. :)

Here are some of the things I do when it looks like my shoot is going to include rain, either created or Mother Nature inspired.

Gear to Bring

My first hint is to travel light. If a casual rain turns into a major downpour that makes photography impossible, you don't want to be dashing to your car with 3 light stands, reflectors, 3 gear bags and 5 bodies. I leave the house with everything I might expect to use, but the only think I keep on me is one body, one flash, and maybe my aluminum tripod if light is going to be an issue.

I also primarily use a prime lens during wet situations. Lenses that have only one focal length (do not "zoom in and out") are called "Prime" lenses. They are usually very sharp and have a nice wide aperture (f/1.8 or f/1.4, etc).

Best of all, they are usually well sealed. Don't (do NOT) switch lenses while in the rain. I know that seems like a silly thing to mention, but I see folks switching lenses at the beach and it drives me nuts. Pick the appropriate lens and commit.

Gear Protection

Driving to the Shoot

Gear protection starts as you are driving to your shoot! Humidity will be high, and if you run your AC during a hot summer rain, you guarantee foggy lenses. It may be an uncomfortable ride, but turn off the AC, or at least run just the fan. If it's not already raining, you can open your window.

The alternative is arriving on location and waiting 20 minutes for your lenses to defog. And the fogging happens on the INSIDE of the lens, you can't wipe it off.

Driving without AC also helps YOU get acclimated to the environment. If you enjoy a wonderful AC experience while you drive, the minute you step into the hot humid air, you'll be miserable. If you have the kinda sweat glands I do, you'll be soaked within 10 minutes.

Cheap Protection

For those that know me, you know I'm cheap. :) Its really easy to pay BIG for nice rain protection, but if you need something for the occasional sprinkle, there are much less costly options.

My batteries and extra memory cards are kept in small ziplock bags inside the camera bag. In the worst case that rain gets into the camera bag, the batteries and cards should still be ok.

I also carry two or three wash cloths inside ziplocks. I use these to wipe moisture from my fingers when needed. For example, when switching previously mentioned batteries and cards.

Meanwhile, there are some very inexpensive camera protection systems available at Amazon.com. These are typically one-time-use products, after one trip in the rain, you should probably toss them. But for $5-10 per package, its not a major loss.

I always purchase the ones that have room for the flash, even if I don't know that I'll need it. The extra plastic doesn't really get in the way if you don't end up using a flash on your body.

Before you put your hand in that sleeve, make SURE and wipe your fingers with the rags mentioned above.

Camera Bag

Always travel/pack your best camera bag -- except when it rains. That's the day you bring the not-terribly-useful bag that can get muddy. You can spray-treat it with waterproofing, but that usually takes a few days or a week to "set". Bags with flap-over tops are good too; zipper-open tops can allow water to seep through the tiny zipper holes.

DIY it, baby!

For the ultimate in DIY rain protection, bring a large Target or Wal-Mart bag wadded up in a side pocket. Not pretty, but again, in the case of a huge downpour, you can toss your camera bag inside, gather up the top, and start running.

In this instagram, my trunk provides a little rain protection. We saw the storm coming, so cobbled together a tarp and light stands tent. In the trunk you can see my camera bag covered in a white trash bag.

Here's two of my flashes at a recent event, covered in ziplock bags and held in place with rubber bands. DIY but effective.

Photographer Protection

Admit it, no body wants to be walking around soaking wet. There are several inexpensive options to help keep yourself comfortable and focused on shooting.

What to Wear

Unless its cold outside, wear very light, breathable fabrics. In fact wear clothing that's appropriate for about 10 degrees warmer than what it actually is. Here's why. To keep DRY, I wear a cheap poncho. Paid about 5 bucks for it at Wal-Mart. It even has a hood top with draw strings. It ain't pretty, bright yellow, but it keeps me dry down to about my knees.

The major drawback is that I'm wearing a huge plastic tarp with little ventilation. So although its dry, it can get pretty warm underneath. This is why I suggest dressing for weather that's 10 degrees hotter than it actually is.

For shoes, I wear a pair of waterproof(ish) lace-up boots and thick socks. Some folks wear galoshes, perfectly reasonable if you expect high water with your rain.

Conclusion

Just like any other photography subject, the most interesting results happen when you are most challenged. Take some precautions to protect your gear, don't touch your body while your fingers are wet, and don't expose the inside of your camera to moisture/rain.

It might not be as easy as walking around on a beautiful sunny day, but if you are careful with your gear, you can walk away (wet) with some very unique images.

UPDATE: Shopping List

Depending on the situation and weather expectations, I may carry some or all of the following. Some of my stuff is old and I couldn't find the same brand, but this is basically the same thing

Gear Protection:

Photographer Protection:

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AuthorInfo

Joe is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for Bridgeway Software, Inc and part-time consultant for NGO and non-profit organizations in the Houston area. Joe is also a part-time Portrait Photographer at MEDIA.24Moves.com and organizer of the HoustonPhotowalks.com photography club. He and his wife Marty run the AutismHouston.com Support and Playdate group.

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