How to Capture Great Images When It's Cloudy/Rainy on Your Trip

How to Capture Great Images When It’s Cloudy/Rainy on Your Trip

There’s little worse feeling than checking the forecast the day before leaving for a great vacation or trip you have planned for ages… only to find out you’ll never see the sun the entire time. All those beautiful sunny photos you had been dreaming of taking no longer seem possible. It’s all rain and clouds ahead. Just because the weather looks gloomy though, doesn’t mean it has to rain on your picture party.

This was the scenario I found myself in just before leaving for Nassau, Bahamas for Islands Magazine and their Best Islands to Live On issue. A day before leaving I received a frantic email from the family I was to follow and photograph for four days asking if we wanted to reschedule because of the gloomy forecast. When you’re on tight editorial deadlines and travel costs have already been laid out, there’s no turning back. You have to make the best of what the weather is going to give you. In a tropical location normally known for its crystal clear waters and deep blue skies that can be a definite concern as a photographer. You can’t come back to your photo editor with gloom and doom! You have to make something work – and work enough to be publishable and entice readers to travel.

Here are a few tips I’ve utilized on travel assignments that will help you in returning from your cloudy vacation with photos you’ll still treasure.

Frame Out the Sky

When the sky just doesn’t want to cooperate with you, simply cut it out of the picture. There are an endless amount of frames and compositions you can create without any sky in your shot, or only a small portion of it. Look for background elements you can blur out but will cover the sky like trees and buildings. While cloudy light certainly isn’t my favorite, there is something to be said for a nice big softbox in the sky. Even better if you can find a sandy beach reflecting a bit of light back up or any other large fill source like it.

One of my tasks while following a family of five around on Nassau was to show their daughter at the horse stables the family frequents. It was easy to find plenty of shots as she was prepping the horse in the stable, or by just placing myself in the right spot in the corral I could eliminate the solid cloud cover above with trees.

Utilize Shade Covered Spots

Areas that are shady on sunny days are still shady on cloudy days – just to a much less degree. That still can make them great spots for an even front light. The sun that does cut through the clouds bounces around off the ground and nearby objects. Doorways, under patio awnings and anything that’s creating a solid filter between you and the sun above can work. These can be great spots to place people and still get a nice even light. Take for instance this group of school kids sitting under an awning at their library. A relatively even light is hitting them all without any odd cloudy contrast. The colored t-shirts help add some pop to the photo and bring it to life.

Use a Polarizer

A polarizer helps create just a tiny bit of definition in these clouds... instead of a solid white sheet.

Polarizer filters aren’t just for sunny days. The idea behind them is to cut through haze and deliver crisper colors and contrast. When you’re battling extreme amounts of atmospheric haze from the clouds and fog polarizers can still be helpful. To check the difference, pop one on your camera, turn it (if you have a circular filter) to see if you notice any difference while looking through the viewfinder, snap a few shots and then compare it against a few with the filter off. You’ll have to compensate for anywhere between 1-3 stops difference, so make sure to factor that in when creating your exposures. When you just have to get some cloudy sky shots, this can help create a bit of definition behind the clouds – enough that you can drop a bit more color back in post to supplement what those clouds are taking away.

Make It Fun

A rainy or cloudy day doesn’t mean all fun stops. In fact there are plenty of photos you can only find on days like this. The idea is to pull out the fun, spontaneity or uniqueness of those moments. Some activities, like the rugby shot here, are actually suited well for damp, rainy, muddy days. It really brings the gritty sport to life. Other times you can find fisherman in bright yellow raincoats or travelers with umbrellas dotting the street. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to find a couple kissing in the rain. All of these make great shots in the rain and clouds.

On my Nassau assignment I was lucky enough to convince the family and friends to go out boating in the pouring rain. I covered up the camera in a water tight housing and we all prepared to get soaked and go boating and diving. It’s something the family might never have done on their own, but it created some great moments of everyone laughing while being pelted with rain. We also managed to pull up a brightly colored starfish from the ocean floor, creating a great punch of color. Truly a fun day.

Focus on Story Telling Details

Take photos of all the little details in tight crops. These really help tell the story of where you are. There’s no shortage of these anywhere you travel; signs, plants and animals, food, drinks, games and so much more. Always be on the lookout for these little elements. See beyond just the wide frame shot.

You can see how this travel assignment came together for the July/August 2012 edition of Islands Magazine of the family living in Nassau. While I had four days of rain and clouds, we still made it work. When it comes to client shoots there are no excuses – you have to get the job done!

 


Remember cloudy and rainy days don’t have to rain on your parade. You can still come home with great travel photos that will make your friends envious. All you need to do is know how and where to look.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • Bronwyn Hellings August 17, 2012 11:32 am

    While a lot of the comments here are good common sense, it takes a trip like the one mentioned to remind us how easy it is to think outside the square and make use of what we have.
    ciao
    Bronwyn

  • Jai Catalano August 15, 2012 08:46 pm

    I did a headshot session in the rain once. Actually it was pouring. Shots came out really good considering the circumstances. We found a sheltered area and came away happy. My assistent however... Let's just say she isn't with me anymore. :)

  • raghavendra August 15, 2012 11:31 am

    using a polarizer is a good tip and checking out the weather forecast added more info to it :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/

  • rohit kothari August 15, 2012 08:30 am

    using polarizer is the best option as i always use it in bad weather but some time bad weather even give a lot of a beautiful shot and about that story telling thing i guess every picture has their own story

  • Scottc August 15, 2012 07:56 am

    Sometimes the weather can make the photo!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4875729393/

  • Kenneth Rivera August 15, 2012 05:19 am

    Hey Great post!!

    I usually prefer cloudy sky... I guess i have to adapt as I live in Costa Rica and we have many months of rain season.

    One thing that is missing on this article is to use the sky on your favor... and make it more dramatic, it requires to use flash to bring foreground objcets or HDR but you can get amazing effects.

    Check some examples:
    http://www.kennethrivera.com/category/photos/nature/

    Thanks,
    Kenneth

  • Kerry Garrison August 15, 2012 02:31 am

    Great tips Matt!

    When I want to do something with a dull gray sky I will put the camera's white balance on tungsten and use a CTO gel on the flash. This will make the subject look correct but will turn the sky blue.
    http://cameradojo.com/2012/03/27/using-gels-to-fix-an-ugly-sky/

  • steve slater August 15, 2012 02:27 am

    Cloudy and misty days are somewhat plrntiful in the UK so we get plenty of practice.

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Southern-England-scenes/G0000.xAeTcT_pgs/I0000KErf1ZwrSPY

  • Jean-Pierre August 15, 2012 01:50 am

    We were taking shelter when it just started pouring down rain. This girl looked super cool having just taken cover as well. People shots are usually interesting, the rain could just be part of the story.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/45517597@N07/7625948720/

  • Mridula August 15, 2012 01:40 am

    I had the same scenario when I visited the Lake District in UK. On cue for the three days I had there was only one color in sky, grey. And I have to say I did not handle it well at all. I wish I had read this before.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/