“What if it rains???” That’s a question that every wedding photographer will eventually hear. Portrait photographers too. And it’s an important one. Rain doesn’t really jive well with people photography, and so it’s up to the shooter to figure out a backup plan.
It can seem like a scary prospect, but with a little bit of preparation you can handle even the craziest of storms, and still create amazing images. Honest.
Dealing with rain is a bit different for weddings and portraits, so we’ll chat about them each individually. Let’s start off with weddings, where rain is a big deal.
We may have just been ridiculously lucky, but in 4 years of shooting weddings, it only rained enough to send us indoors once. But even on all those other days, where the weather was bright and sunny, we still had a rain plan, just in case.
Which brings us to the most important concept in dealing with rainy days. Preparation. With a wedding you don’t have the option of rescheduling. You have to make the images happen right then. So you need to have a plan in place to ensure that if the weather goes bad, you can still do your job!
First off, that means packing your bags for the possibility of rain. Here are some things to put in your essentials kit for bad weather:
- Umbrellas: We had six, which would be enough for the bridal party to cover themselves, and one for us to shoot under. We rarely had to use them, but always had them. Pro Tip: The colour of your umbrellas matters. We had black ones, since they wouldn’t clash with any colours that the bridal party might be wearing, and were generally pretty unobtrusive. But if you can find a clear umbrella that’s the best! It lets light through so you can get better images, and won’t create any weird colour casts on your subjects’ faces.
- Extra clothes: You should always have an extra set of clothes in your car, just in case. If it rains you might find yourself soaked through and muddy, with the reception to still attend.
- Plastic bags: If it just stopped raining, you still have to be prepared. The ground will probably be wet, which can affect your posing! If you have a white and a black plastic bag (garbage bags work well because they are nice and big) you can have your bride and groom sitting, and not worry about them getting mucky! You’ll still be able to get variety in your poses, even if the weather isn’t awesome.
- Towels: If it starts raining, you need to make sure your gear is ok. Many cameras aren’t weather sealed, so water could damage it. Having a towel on hand ensures that you can dry it off right away.
The second, and most important part of your preparation comes with your location scouting. You need to know of a location that will allow you to create great images even in bad weather. This may seem like a tall order, but it’s actually not too tricky. And once you find a few good rain locations, you can re-use them for any wedding where weather is an issue, and not have to worry about it again! Good deal, right?
You need to determine what kinds of photos your location has to accomodate. The first to plan for are the family formals. We usually shot these at the ceremony location, since it was far more convenient for everyone involved. The bonus is that the ceremony location can often make a great rain backup for the family formals as well, especially if it’s indoors. This is a big reason to attend the wedding rehearsal, so you can see if you could use the spot as a possible rain backup!
The second set of photos that you need to have a rain plan for are the portraits, and these are a bit trickier. You want to get variety and creativity in these images, so you need a location with lots of options!
First off, you’ll want to consider where your ceremony and reception locations are, and how much time you have for portraits when deciding where to look. You may have the best rain backup location ever, but if it’s an hour out of the way you’ll be losing way too much time getting there. The less you have to drive, the more you can shoot!
Now, finding a great spot to shoot while it’s raining takes some thought. The biggest thing you need to keep in mind is light. It’s definitely a bit trickier to find good light when it’s raining, but it’s completely possible!
(Note: We are primarily natural light photographers, which is why we prioritize light in our rain backup locations. If you are a strobe wizard you’ll have more options for areas you can use in case of rain, since you don’t need to look for natural light).
There are a few types of areas that tend to work well as possible rain locations. Here are the main ones:
Being able to shoot inside a building is certainly the most ideal rain backup situation. If it’s cold and windy outside, shooting indoors ensures that everyone is comfortable and can enjoy themselves. But it’s often trickier in terms of light. What you really want to find is somewhere with windows.
Windows make for excellent light, and you can find them anywhere! For extra awesome light, look for the biggest windows you can find.
As we’ve discussed before, window light is magical. It gives you tons of variety, can be found in practically every building, and is easy to shoot. So when you’re scouting out a building for a potential rain backup, check out the windows. Are there lots? Are they big? Are they facing the right direction for lots of light at the time you’re shooting?
Lobbies are usually a great spot to find window light, whether it’s in the church, the hotel, or another building. In our city the local university and college campuses have some great options. The ceremony venue or the reception venue are also possibilities that you can check out.
A quick word on paying for locations. We were always able to find a great rain backup location that didn’t cost anything (see below for more ideas), so we tended not to spring for the paid spots. They were often as much as $200/hour, which is kind of crazy! This is a cost that photogs generally pass on to their client, but even though it may not come directly out of your pocket your clients will probably appreciate not having to pay a few hundred more than they were expecting. Of course, if there just aren’t any great free options, chat with your clients to see if their budget will allow for renting a space.
It may sound strange, but parking garages have amazing light! You get a ton of directiona
l, soft light coming in through the big “windows” that exist in most garages, and you don’t have to worry about the rain since you are covered. Perfecto!
Parking garages offer tons of variety, and awesome light to boot. Make sure to thoroughly check out all the levels, you might find a really fantastic spot hidden away!
Parking garages often have interesting colours and backgrounds too, making them pretty nifty shoot locations! You also don’t generally have to worry about fees for using the space, and we’ve personally never had anyone ask us to leave. Of course there is a bit of a danger level with cars zipping around, so if you can find spots that aren’t busy that’s definitely preferred.
The simplest option for shooting in bad weather is to find an overhang to protect you from the rain. This may not be the most comfortable if the weather is really windy and cold, but if there’s a light drizzle this is a very easy option!
If you get caught in a sudden downpour an overhang can keep the session going!
Overhangs exist all over the place once you start looking for them. You can use something as simple as an awning over a storefront, or something as epic as an overpass. Overhangs give you lots of great light, since you aren’t covered very much, so that’s another bonus.
If there isn’t too much rain, all you may need are a few umbrellas, and you can keep shooting in your original location!
Pay careful attention to the light on your subjects’ faces, and make sure the umbrella isn’t putting them too much into shadow. This is where the clear umbrellas really are a benefit, since they let all that great light shine through.
Remember to have an umbrella for yourself, and an assistant to hold it over you, so you can shoot too without worrying about ruining your camera!
Making The Call
On the wedding day you will be the one who has to make the call whether or not to use the rain backup location. You will, of course, want to keep an eye on the weather report leading up to the event, so you have a good idea whether or not to expect rain. If it starts to sprinkle on the day of, you may be able to hold off on deciding until the very last minute. There’s always a chance things will clear up (that happened to us time and time again), and then you can proceed as normal.
But, if it’s pouring, you may need to make the call early. Talk to your clients when they have a moment to think about it, and let them know your plans. Ensure them that you’re prepared, and can still produce great images, despite the weather. Your positivity will help them feel more relaxed and excited. They’re surely stressing about the weather, so help them to see that it won’t affect the day at all, thanks to your careful planning!
Shooting right after the rain stops can be a real treat, with amazing light and awesome skies!
Portrait sessions are quite a different ballgame than weddings, simply because you have the luxury of rescheduling. All you need to do is let your clients know when they first book how you deal with rain, and they’ll know what to expect if the weather is bad.
If you were planning to shoot outside you’ll probably wait until about an hour before the shoot was supposed to begin, and then make the call. If you do reschedule try to sort out a new shoot date right away so it doesn’t get put off too long! Your clients will surely be sad that it didn’t work out that day (they were certainly super excited!) so if you can show that you’re committed to making it happen as soon as possible they’ll still keep their excitement.
Now, portraits also give you a bit more flexibility than weddings, in that it doesn’t matter too much if people get wet and muddy. That means that a rainy day could result in a super fun session! Slip on the rain boots, put on jackets, and go have some fun!!
Everyone can warm up afterwards with hot chocolate, all wrapped up in blankets. Doesn’t that sound like a totally awesome portrait session?? Rainy days often give you some really fantastic light as well, so if you’re up for it, and your clients are as well, rock it out!
Of course, if you’re going to shoot in the rain, make sure to take care of your gear. You don’t need to splurge on super expensive cover that you’ll only use a couple times. We once shot for hours during a torrential downpour in Singapore with just a garbage bag MacGyver’ed into a cover. Cut a small hole that the lens can poke through, and use a lens hood to ensure water doesn’t get on the front of the lens. Then poke your head through the main opening at the back. Boom. Rain cover. You can get right out into the rain, and get some pretty incredible shots!
A garbage bag rain cover made this shot possible. Thanks, garbage bag!
Another option with portraits is that you can shoot in the clients’ home. It gives a personal quality to the images, since they are in their own space. Plus homes generally have a bunch of windows you can use for wonderful natural light.
Finally, you can also simply find a rain backup location to shoot in, using the same guidelines that we just talked about with weddings! Tons of options, eh?
Other Types of Photography
So maybe you don’t shoot portraits, but rather you do street photography, landscapes, sports, etc. Well, quite simply, these things don’t go away just because it’s raining!
The mountain will still be there, and you might get a completely different vibe to the images because it’s stormy out. Then come back the next day to get the sunset shot you were dreaming of.
For documentary work, it can be absolutely fascinating to see how things change on a rainy day. While the streets may not be as busy, life still continues.
Just because it was raining didn’t mean the local market shut down. Everyone put up tarps, and kept on with their
You might find yourself going indoors to shoot more, but there’s always still something to shoot. Even portraits are possible, using everyone’s friend, window light!
And if you shoot sports, well, what is more gritty than shots of players fighting it out in the mud? Totally cool.
It can be pretty stressful to see those gray clouds on the day you’re supposed to be out shooting. But with some planning, and a positive attitude, you can create stellar photos, and have your clients raving about how well you did, even in bad weather! Totally pro.
Do you have any tips for dealing with rain during a shoot? Any favourite types of locations for bad weather?