Living in the Northwest means plenty of rainy days. Many people cancel hiking plans and put the camera away when it’s dreary and wet. If you’re one of them, you may be missing some wonderful and unique photographic opportunities.
Below are some suggestions to help you enhance your photography on wet days and tips to keep your gear dry.
1. Focus on drama and light. Clouds and rain can create amazing photographic opportunities, but only if you’re willing to hike in the rain. Some of the most spectacular opportunities I’ve encountered have occurred just before or just after a rain shower, when gaps in the clouds allow shafts of light to illuminate the landscape in a way that doesn’t occur on a sunny day. The juxtaposition of dark, dramatic clouds and an illuminated landscape presents the conditions for awe-inspiring compositions. If you’re lucky, you may also have the opportunity to capture light beams descending from gaps in the clouds or even a rainbow (a polarizer filter is helpful in accentuating these).
2. Look down. When it’s wet and gray, turn your gaze from grand landscapes to what’s right in front of you. Photos of trailside vegetation and flowers will be more richly saturated than on a sunny day. Close-ups of raindrops on leaves and flowers offer artistic opportunities. Finally, a rainy day is often the best time to photograph waterfalls. The clouds eliminate harsh shadows and decrease the likelihood of blowing out the highlights in the water. The plants and trees surrounding the waterfall will also pop because of the increased color saturation.
3. Add color and people. Rainy days are a great opportunity to highlight people on the trail. Colorful rain jackets, day packs and even umbrellas offer fun focal points to an otherwise dreary landscape.
4. Decide whether to include the sky. A monotone gray sky is boring and rarely adds to a photo, so eliminate it from your composition as much as possible. On the other hand, if the clouds have detail and texture, they can add drama. If including clouds in your photo, make sure to expose your image to bring out detail in the brighter clouds. This is the time to pay attention to your histogram and make sure it’s not crowding up against the right edge.
5. Work fast. Water drops on the camera lens can ruin a photo, so you’ll want to capture your shots before rain begins to settle on the lens. Unless you’re shooting under an overhang or an umbrella, you should have your camera settings ready to go when you take your camera out and compose your photo.
6. Wear proper gear. Rainy-day photography is more enjoyable if you’re comfortable and dry. Wear waterproof boots, jackets and rain pants. Your photos will be better if you’re willing to position yourself for the best composition, which may mean brushing up against wet foliage, kneeling or even lying on the wet ground. You’ll also want to make sure your camera stays protected.
7. Cover it up. Camera shops sell commercial rain covers, but you can also create your own. Take a clear plastic bag, cut a hole for the lens and secure the bag to the end of the lens with an elastic band. Combine with a lens hood to keep rain off the lens.
8. Consider an umbrella. This is a great option to keep you and the camera dry but it works best when photographing from a tripod.
9. Dry off your camera as soon as possible. Carry an absorbent towel for your gear and a lens-friendly microfiber cloth to deal with water drops on your lens.
10. Protect yourself. Walking surfaces, especially rock, moss and fallen trees, may be slick. If you’re hearing thunderstorms or seeing lightning, it’s probably time to seek shelter.
Washington Trails Association is the nation’s largest state-based hiking advocacy nonprofit. WTA promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places through collaboration, education, advocacy and volunteer trail maintenance. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.