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What are recommended settings for my Nikon Coolpix P1 to best portray rain?

Here's what I got. No retouching was applied.

  • The picture I took when the rain was heavy with the automatic settings:

    Picture taken with "Automatic" settings

  • The picture I took with the "Sports" program; by then, however, the rain was not as hard.

    Picture taken with "sports settings"

    Ugh, ugly gray strip at the bottom, that was the flat surface I put my camera on to get a stable picture.

My main problem is that the actual rain and hailstorm is very hard to see in the picture. The overall effect is, instead, of fog.


Follow-up from the thread, courtesy of more rain, now with less hailstorm and more thunder.

The feedback amounted to flash and faster shutter. I took a few photos and I'm having some trouble to reconstruct what I did to get each result. Two representative results:

  • Fast shutter, with some guest starring:


    I'm talking about that horrible building obviously.

  • Faster shutter and flash:
    alt text

    Kinda difficult to say those pictures were taken sixty seconds of each other. :)

I'm not sure, however, that either of this is really an improvement of the original results.

share|improve this question
    
Non-camera-specific settings are fine -- I don't need a walkthrough for the photocamera setting screens. I just specified the camera to give you an idea of the product range I have available to me :) –  badp Jul 23 '10 at 16:49
    
Can you clarify what kind of results you are after? For example, you could post an image which you tried but you feel was unsuccessful, or examples of others' images that demonstrate what you'd like to achieve. Also, simply describing in words would be very helpful as well. –  Reid Jul 23 '10 at 16:51
    
@Reid: done. The subject may not be the most interesting ever, I agree. –  badp Jul 23 '10 at 17:03
2  
Was that a fast shutter and a lightning strike?! very clever... –  Will Hardy Jul 27 '10 at 11:21
1  
I think on the second two photos, your shutterspeed might be too fast. The rain drops appear as points, not moving drops. It's one of those cases where the camera is faster than the human eye, and therefore what is an accurate reflection of reality doesn't look like reality. So, I guess fast, but not too fast shutterspeed might help. –  Rabbi David Aug 3 '10 at 21:04

9 Answers 9

I once made a picture which I believe displays rain quite well. I think the main reason why it works is the backlight coming from the car lights. There are two parts of the image where the rain is very visible. One of them is the area directly in front of the car, where the backlight makes the rain shine and the background is almost black.

Another area is the road, where falling drops hit already present water. As water is reflective under certain angles, these little impact areas throw reflections of the lights, while the rest of the water stays invisible, again show there is some rain. Dark pavement also helps.

So, I'd say one way to show and photograph rain is find or create place where it's lit from side or back against something dark.

rain

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3  
+1 for dark background. I tried photographing rain yesterday and the two areas where the rain showed up well were against a dark background and where it splashed off a railing. –  Mark Jul 26 '10 at 20:43
1  
I have no photos even 1/10th that good, but yes it's strong light coming from behind with a dark background that does the job. BTW, that's exactly how Cassini takes its pictures of the plumes of Enceladus. –  DarenW Jul 30 '10 at 7:00
2  
What is the shutter speed for that photo? It's got the right amount of motion blur for the raindrops. –  DarenW Jul 30 '10 at 7:01
3  
1/80 sec. More Exif at flickr.com/photos/che_0/4832069088/meta –  che Jul 30 '10 at 10:21
1  
+1 I think this is the best answer here. It carefully describes a technique, and demonstrates it with an example. I really wish we had more answers like this one. Fantastic answer, Che! –  jrista Aug 3 '10 at 21:42

Photographing rain is very hard because:

  1. Rain is fast
  2. Rain is small

So usually you can do several things:

  1. Use flash to "freeze" the rain (or use very high shutter speed if light is permitting)
  2. Narrow your angle (zoom)

Some examples: http://digital-photography-school.com/forum/how-i-took/107734-rain-flash.html and http://www.talkphotography.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=82324

update: There are also multiple ways to photograph rain "mood". In most cases, this can be achieved without the picture of the rain itself. For example:

  1. Dark big clouds
  2. Wet pavement/road
  3. Umbrellas
  4. Splashing water

Here are some examples that I found that I thought were awesome in capturing the "rain mood": Examples of Rain Photography

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2  
Flash, that's something I should've thought about. –  badp Jul 23 '10 at 17:19

Here are my tips:

  1. try to choose the angle so that the raindrops reflect as much light as possible
  2. try to frame so that the lighter drops are separated from darker background
  3. try to get perspective into the picture (so that there are objects at different distances which will render the lighter the longer the distance to the object)
  4. try different (fairly fast) shutter speeds so that the drops will draw lines instead of fog
  5. stop down your aperture to get the closest rain drops in the picture
  6. use wide angle lens to maximize depth of field
  7. it might not be a good idea to focus at infinity, try different distances with manual focus
  8. be as close to the rain as possible

Or you might get a different and also interesting picture by doing the contrary to steps 3. and 6.

And don't use flash (at least for landscape work).

share|improve this answer
    
"be as close to the rain as possible" That might have been a problem, I was taking the photos from the side of my house that was best covered from rain to avoid getting any on my lens (I don't really know how to properly clean them.) –  badp Jul 23 '10 at 18:13

I think the answer depends on whether you are trying to capture the mood of the rainy scene or the actual raindrops.

If the mood, I think your scene above has some good possibilities, but you need to zoom in. I think there are many possibilities among those buildings and trees. A tripod will help as you could compose the right framing and then wait until the rain ebbs and flows to your linking. Some post-processing effort on contrast and curves may be beneficial.

If the raindrops, the trick will be lighting the drops while having a background of sufficient contrast. The trick with the flash will be to illuminate just raindrops without catching the background (as you did with the leaves above). You could try zooming in, making sure no background objects are within flash range. Some other dark background might work. You could also try a B&W conversion and adjust the contrast vigorously.

Here's a couple of drizzle shots of mine that I enjoy (or perhaps snow). Note that they're mostly about light; the rain illustrates the interesting lighting. http://blog.reidster.net/2009/11/lights-on-campus-at-umn.html

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I photographed some rain in India, but then it was a lot heavier there :). My experience makes me agree more with Johannes and less with Karel. Basically:

  1. Using a wide angle lens creates more space between the objects. Since the rain is already sparse this will work against capturing it. I would suggest you user a longer lens to photograph so it 'compresses' your scene and increases the apparent density of raindrops. Of course this will affect the composition you are trying to achieve.

  2. Use a smaller aperture to increase the dof so that you can see more detail.

  3. Use the raindrop bounce-back. i.e. I've often found it helpful to compose from lower angles in a way that the ground the rain is falling on is clearly visible - this is probably the one part in your scene where the rain should be immediately apparent.

  4. Now I'm not a 100% sure about this, but I think lighting wise you generally want to avoid backlight and should go with frontal/side lighting.

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I was inspired by your question to try to come up with a reasonable shot of rain myself. And it is hard, as others have noted. For me, I think that a successful rain shot shows not necessarily the rain as it falls from the sky, but when it hits the ground. I think that @che's shot is a great one; here's my attempt:

Monterosso Rain

In this case, the reason it works (in my opinion, anyway) is composition more so than any technical abilities of the camera. The raindrops splashing on the ground show how hard it is, the water on the ground shows that it's been ongoing as well as a rippling reflection, and the rain in front of the sign shows up through contrast. A friend was with me and shot this with his p&s as well.

These tricks didn't work when I tried to get a picture of hail, however-- mainly because i didn't want to get nailed by the hail. So I went with the dark background of the cloud, but still, it's hard to tell that this is hail as opposed to rain: alt text

share|improve this answer
    
I've been to that same train stop in Monterosso! Cinque Terre is a beautiful place! –  dpollitt Mar 4 '12 at 5:53

Use a fast shutter speed. The slower the shutter, the more it will look like fog as the rain will move a large amount and other rain drops will overlap, and you can't differentiate them.

A flash as a major light source will act as a very fast shutter. Do that.

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I remember reading somewhere that when they want to show rain in the movies, they actually have someone standing there with a hose pipe spraying water onto the scene, as real rain is far too small to show up on camera. I've no idea if this applies to stills or not, but it does seem to match with your experience. Perhaps you could try the same thing and see if the result looks like how you would expect rain to look on a photograph.

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1  
Still photo has some possibilities that filming doesn't, so you may still be able to catch real rain. You can for example use a lot longer exposure times. Interresting angle though; to fake the rain to catch what the real rain looks like. :) –  Guffa Jul 24 '10 at 14:54

Flash will help. You may want to play with 1st-curtain vs. 2nd-curtain and some different shutter speeds -- you should be able to get several different "looks" out of the same precipitation.

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