As a photographer I am always watching the weather and hoping for a nice day to go exploring with my camera. However, during the period between Spring and Summer Japan has an “extra” season, the rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨) in Japanese.
During this month and a half or so from early June to mid July it can feel like it is raining all day…every day…for EVER!
Many photographers feel this can be an uncomfortable and difficult time to get out and shoot outside, but in reality it is a great opportunity to be creative and challenge yourself as a photographer.
In this article I would like to give a few tips and tricks with regards to your gear and shooting possibilities when out shooting in the rain.
First, with regards to your camera equipment. One critical aspect of shooting in the rain is keeping your gear dry.
Many modern cameras are water sealed and can withstand a certain amount of rain, but it is always best to tread on the side of caution when it comes to your camera. On days where the rain is light, I will usually wear a light rain jacket and carry an umbrella. At this time of year even if it is raining, it can still be very warm. So a waterproof shell (very thin jacket) is recommended as you will sweat like crazy in the humidity if you wear a normal winter style rain jacket.
Also, I recommend using a clear plastic umbrella on rainy days. That way, you can:
- See what is ahead of you at all times (these umbrellas are see-through), and
- Even if the umbrella slips into the top of your images, it won’t just be a big black blob but can add an interesting element instead.
I see many street photographs purposely adding their umbrella to the tops of their images to add an extra layer to the image. And it helps the viewer feel that they are part of the photo themselves.
On a side note, when I buy a jacket I know I will be using for this purpose, I buy about one size larger than normal. That way, when I’m walking with the camera, I am able to slip it into my jacket and keep it extra dry in moments of stronger rain or sudden wind.
Shooting With an Umbrella
When shooting with an umbrella in the rain it is important to understand that, by holding the umbrella, you will obviously need to do all your photography with one hand. To help with this I have two suggestions:
- Use a camera strap that allows you to let go of your camera safely when you need to use your shooting hand for something else, and
- Use prime lenses.
Maybe you need to answer your phone or pay for something, etc. It is great to have a strap you are comfortable with and trust to hold your camera when needed.
Having to use zoom lenses when holding an umbrella is not impossible, but can be very frustrating. I highly recommend at these times to use a prime lens and forget about zooming. This will make everything much more simple. Moreover, it will help force you to be more creative and move with your body when out shooting.
Changing Lenses in the Rain
Also, when shooting in the rain you need to be super careful when changing your lenses. One slip up and a raindrop can easily fall into your open camera and onto your sensor or other sensitive electronics that do NOT like being wet at all.
If you can go inside when changing lenses, that is best. But if that is not an option, I find it best to bend over as far as you are comfortable, and then change the lens with the camera close to your body.
Your back becomes a bit like a roof and will hopefully block any potential drips from entering your camera.
On a side note, on the Nikon Z9 there is actually a door that will come down when your camera is shut off. This saved me the other day when I was out shooting in the rain. Hopefully something like this is implemented in other cameras in the future.
Protecting Equipment, Being Prepared
Now when working, there are times when using an umbrella is not possible. And many events will carry on even in torrential rain. In these situations I get myself some full rain gear, as well as a cover for my camera and my camera bag.
There are lots of options out there so take a look and get something that fits your budget. Even in the best rain gear you will eventually get wet, but even simple covers will keep your camera dry (at least they have for me ー so far.)
Lastly, here are some small items that are helpful to keep with you: A small towel, a decent hat, and something you can use to wipe your lens, as needed.
So enough with gear!! Now that you are all prepared and out shooting here are a few tips on some fun types of images to try and capture.
Thanks to all the water on the ground and gathering in puddles, there are small mirrors for you to play with all over the place. Get down low and see what you can find.
Sometimes the water will create cool streaks of color, and other times it will give amazing reflections of the world around you. Having a flip out screen on your camera can help a lot with these low angles.
If you are shooting with a cell phone try flipping it upside down so the lens is close to the water. Your camera will know what you are doing and flip your image automatically, so no need to worry about having to rotate it later.
People with umbrellas can be great subjects. Maybe someone has an umbrella with a cool design, or there is one red umbrella in a sea of black ones. Or there is just a massive amount of people with umbrellas and it creates a cool visual design.
Also, many times when people have an umbrella it can be difficult to see their face, especially their eyes. This can add a sense of mystery to the image, making it more intriguing for the viewer. Take your time and be patient as you never know what kind of umbrella might come around the next corner.
Raised Walkways and Overpasses
With water on the streets and everyone carrying umbrellas, sometimes it's best to get above everything. By using the raised walkways and overpasses found around Tokyo you can get some great views of everyone's umbrellas, while playing with reflections that you may be able to see in the water on the ground.
Also, I love playing with my composition by using the thick white lines of the crosswalks with the people walking below me. When I was out the other day shooting in the rain, I think these were my favorite images.
If you are out shooting anything with movement, playing with puddles and splashes can be great fun! Have your mountain biker hit that puddle hard and fast. Get your breakdancer to splash the puddle with their footwork. Or even get great pictures or your toddler jumping in endless puddles, I know my two year old LOVES it!
Just make sure to shoot at a higher shutter speed if you want to stop that action. Use your burst mode, and make sure you can laugh when you get soaked to the bone but have amazing images.
So even though it may rain for days on end, don’t get down and feel like you can’t get out and shoot. With just a little extra gear for the rain there is nothing stopping you from getting creative, and a little wet maybe, and having a great time shooting in the rain.
Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko), and find his work here on JAPAN Forward.