Try Wet Weather Photography for Dramatic Light

by Apr 22, 2024Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Wet Weather Photography for Dramatic Light

In this article, I hope to encourage you to try wet weather photography, particularly landscape photography. That’s because wet weather conditions can lead to some of the most dramatic and amazing light for photography.

Why Wet Weather Photography?

If you have read my book Landscape Photography: Shoot Like a Pro, you will know I emphasise the importance of picking the right weather for a photo trip and matching subjects to the conditions. Indeed, I spent quite a few pages explaining how to do this to give yourself a high probability of capturing excellent shots. My advice still stands, but it ignores the role of “luck and chance” in photography. It’s these factors that can also produce the most dramatic and eye-catching photos.

Following my own advice has produced good results for me over the years, but my photography has also become predictable.

When something becomes predictable, it becomes boring. That’s why I began looking back through my library of images to find the photos I liked the most. Doing this made me realise that many of my favourite photos would never have happened had I not ventured out in the wet weather. That’s why I’ve decided to experiment with my approach to photography.

Wet Weather Photography Isn’t Bad Weather Photography

Before explaining what I’ve done and how you might want to change your approach, I need to clarify something. Wet weather photography is not the same as bad weather photography. We can have bad weather photography on bright sunny days with clear blue skies and no chance of rain (I hate those).

Bad weather produces light that doesn’t work for what you are trying to photograph. Bright, sunny conditions in the middle of the day produce hard shadows and blue light, making landscapes look terrible. But if you are photographing in a city, this same light can create wonderful deep shadows and strong reflections in glass and steel.

I’m often reminded of these points when I complain about the constant rain in the UK (particularly in the North West of England) only to have someone from California tell me they would love these conditions.

Changing My Photographic Approach

It’s time to change my approach by experimenting with wet weather photography.

I will deliberately head out with my camera in the rain to photograph the landscape, and I have already started. I want to capture the more dramatic light in these conditions.

But there is an important caveat that I need to explain.

I won’t head out when the forecast is for constant rain all day. I wanted conditions with a clearing weather front over the area where I will photograph. Also, the more dramatic the weather, the better, provided I can stay safe. And I’ve already started…

After watching the weather for a few weeks recently, I noticed a series of storms blowing, which looked perfect. This was when I headed up a mountain in the Lake District with a friend to see what photos we could capture.

Changing More Than My Photographic Approach

Now, you might be wondering why it’s taken me so long to share this. To be totally honest, I was disappointed with the photographs I took. Let’s look at one of them.

Example landscape image photographed in wet weather conditions

Many of the people I’ve shown this image to love it. I’m still not entirely sure, although it is growing on me.

I love aspects like the light falling on the mountain, which makes wet weather photography so special. These moments of fleeting drama are when the light breaks through, revealing the landscape completely differently from the golden hour.

But there are a few problems with images like the one above:

  1. I find them difficult to spot when scanning through a lot of thumbnails. Sometimes, you need to be looking at a larger image to understand the possibilities.
  2. I don’t immediately appreciate the image. I’ve probably spent too long processing images with warm, soft light taken during the golden hour. This may be making it difficult for me to see the beauty of the landscape during wet weather or a storm.
  3. Closely related to this last point, I’m struggling to understand how to process these images to produce good work.

Here’s another example that you may or may not like.

Dramatic light breaking through the wet, stormy sky

This was a fleeting moment when the sun broke through the clouds and rain to light the trees on a mountain ridge.

It’s All About the Light

In both photos above, the light is what makes them. It isn’t the equipment or the composition. Without the light, these images would be nothing, and there would be no interest.

Now, you may be tempted to think you need breaks in the cloud to produce great light. I don’t mind sharing that that was also my first reaction. But then I spotted this image in my thumbnails.

wet weather photograph in the mountains of the lake district

There’s very little light in this scene, yet it still works, and the recession in the mountains caused by the rain has begun to draw me in.

Despite the moody images with dramatic light I’ve shared, I am still drawn more to the image below.

Example photograph taken between the rain and wet weather

This was also taken on the same day as the previous shots. It tells me that I probably still need to ” retrain” my eye to appreciate and maximize wet weather photography.

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Some Wet Weather Photography Advice

Let me share some tips based on what I realised when photographing in wet weather.

  1. Don’t use a tripod. It’s much easier to shoot handheld. On this day, a tripod would have been immediately blown over, as I was on several occasions.
  2. Don’t be afraid to crank up the ISO setting on your camera to ensure a steady shot. You can easily process any noise out of the image using software.
  3. Wear good-quality outdoor gear. If you are wet and cold, as can easily happen in wet weather, you won’t be able to concentrate on the photography. Good-quality clothing that keeps you warm and dry is essential for wet weather photography.
  4. Try to keep your camera gear dry when not in use. This means using a good bag with a rain cover. I use the Mindshift Backlight 26L backpack most of the time. This is the one that I reviewed back in October 2018, and it is still going strong.
  5. Use a zoom lens. If you can help it, you don’t want to change lenses in the driving rain. On the day I took the photographs in this article, I was using a Fujifilm XT5 camera and a Fuji 16-80 lens. I’ve been critical of this lens in the past, but it has the ideal focal range for wet weather photography in the landscape, and it’s weather sealed.
  6. Consider using lens filters. This may seem counter-intuitive tip, but it made keeping the front of my lens clean much easier. It also wouldn’t have been easy to take multiple exposures to blend in post-processing as I could barely stand up most of the time. Photography in wet weather tends to produce a huge dynamic range that’s difficult to capture. I was using a 4-stop Soft ND Graduated filter throughout this day and in all the shots that I’ve shared.
  7. Keep a cloth in your pocket to wipe away rain. I use Kase Wolverine glass filters for my landscape photography. These are shatterproof and have a rain-repellent coating, which makes it easier to clean them in wet weather.

I hope my story and tips have encouraged you to try wet weather photography for yourself. If you live in the UK, you have no excuse not to.

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