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postheadericon Shooting Rain and Storms

Wet and stormy weather tends to discourage photographers from going out, but it offers a range of interesting conditions, from glistening surfaces to flashes of lighting. Rain my be uncomfortable, and digital cameras, with all their circuitry, certainly need good protection from rainwater, but in terms of lighting rain makes a relief from standard sunlight. Light levels are typically low because of the thickness of most rain clouds, but the gentle, shadowless and enveloping light is good for capturing the purity of natural colors in landscapes. Greens in particular come out well on wet days, so this can be the ideal time for garden and woodland scenes.


Photographing rain itself is not easy, because of the poor light and the speed at which raindrops fall. Often, rain looks like mist in many photographs, or, if heavy, as lines. To capture actual raindrops, the best conditions are back lighting against a dark background, which is uncommon in rainy weather. The best sense of rainyness often comes from the subjects – such as drops on leaves and car windscreens – rather than from the light itself. The levels are usually very low; rain and cloud together easily reduce the light by 4 or 5 stops.


Lighting can add considerably to the power of a landscape. The problem is predicting it – the exact moment and also the direction. There is no way of synchronizing lighting flashes with the shutter, and the only certain technique is to leave the shutter open in anticipation of a strike. Fortunately, the electrical conditions that produce one lightning flash usually produce a number, often more or less in the same place. At the height of a storm, you should not have to wait more than 10 or 20 seconds for the net flash, and it is more likely to be in the direction of the last few flashes than in any other. Nevertheless, lightning in daylight is difficult to shoot without overexposure. If there is still light in the sky, estimate the average interval between flashes, and set the camera to allow a time exposure longer than that.


Ordinarily, the exposure depends on the intensity of the individual flash, whether it is reflected from surrounding clouds and how far away it is. You can estimate the last, at least through a group of flashes: count the number of seconds between seeing the flash and hearing the accompanying thunder. The difference is the speed of sound: a gap of fie seconds means that the lightning is 1 mile/1.6km away. Check your first exposure on the LCD screen, and adjust the aperture as necessary.

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