What to Photograph on Cloudy or Rainy Days?

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As a travel photographer it can be incredibly frustrating and stressful when you have limited time somewhere and you are hit with overcast, or even rainy days. This happened to me recently when on a five day trip in a national park. I had four days of grey skies and constant rain. It can be difficult to keep yourself motivated, so here are a few tips on what to photograph, or what you can do instead on overcast or rainy days.

Cloudy_Bodiam_Castle_

Edit, caption and add metadata to photos

If you are on an assignment or are planning to send images to a stock library, then every image needs to be captioned, the location added, and have metadata attached to it. So it might be wise to use the time to add details to photos while they are fresh in your mind. You could also use the time to start editing the photos, for example by going through and deleting all of the obvious mistakes (i.e. camera shake) or flagging the ones you think are good. Every little thing you do while away means less work when you get home.

Scout locations

This is a personal favourite strategy of mine. Head out to the locations you were going to photograph and scout them first hand. How do you get there? Where is the car park? What is the best time of day to photograph it? Find the best angles and views, etc. Once you’ve done the ground work it means that when you have the right conditions, you know exactly where to go and what photos to take.

Take portraits or environmental portraits

If you are planning to photograph people, then overcast days are a great time to do it. The soft light will mean that their face will be evenly lit without harsh shadows. Or alternatively, look to capture environmental portraits, like showing people going about their lives or daily jobs.

Use the conditions to capture great portraits. Or include more of the person's surroundings to help tell a story.

Use the conditions to capture great portraits. Or include more of the person’s surroundings to help tell a story.

Take photos in markets

Some markets are fully or partially covered which means not only can you stay dry and out of the rain, but it doesn’t matter what the sky is like. But even if the market isn’t covered, the stalls will be so you can still capture great portraits and shots of the goods on sale.

Markets are a great place to go to when the weather isn't great.

Markets are a great place to go to when the weather isn’t great.

Close-ups of details are great on cloudy or rainy days.

Close-ups of details are great on cloudy or rainy days.

Capture close-ups and details 

Another way to utilise your time is to focus on capturing close-ups. It could be beautiful decorations or tiles in a mosque, the carvings on a historical monument or the striking design on the outside of a building. Alternatively, head to a local park and photograph local flowers or even wildlife; the list is endless.

Photograph food

You should photograph food on your trip whenever you can, but overcast days are great for photographing food outdoors, as again you won’t have harsh daylight and shadows to deal with. So if you are heading out to lunch (and it’s warm enough), sit outside and capture your meal before you tuck in.

Use natural daylight on cloudy days to photograph food.

Use natural daylight on cloudy days to photograph food

 

Photograph forests and waterfalls

It’s no secret that the best time photograph waterfalls is after rainfall, as this means they will be in full flow. But you might also have instances where the mud that gets washed into the rivers will give the water a surreal golden colour. Forests are also great to photograph on overcast or rainy days as you would often find yourself under a canopy of the trees, so the sky becomes irrelevant. But remember that if you are going to be photographing in low light conditions you should ideally use a tripod to avoid having to bump up your ISO.

The waterfall will be in full flow after rainfall.

The waterfall will be in full flow after rainfall.

If mud washes into the river it could give the water a lovely colour.

If mud washes into the river it could give the water a lovely colour.

Do what you planned

Sometimes the best thing to do is to go ahead and do what you had planned to do anyway. The worst case scenario is that you’ll end up scouting the place for when the weather is better, but sometimes you could end up with a few moments when the weather gives you something dramatic. And keep your eyes open! Just because that beautiful landscape or scene is marred by the grey skies doesn’t mean there are other things you can’t photograph.

I was ready to pack up and go home when at around 9pm the sun started coming through giving me this dramatic scene.

I was ready to pack up and go home when at around 9pm the sun started coming through giving me this dramatic scene.

Take the day off

It feels wrong and you feel incredibly guilty, but if you’ve had a busy or tiring few days sometimes taking the day off and just relaxing could really refresh and motivate you for the days when you have better weather.

Of course, being prepared before you go away, and having a plan of things to photograph on rainy or cloudy days can be a huge help, but the important thing to remember is that you can’t control the weather so don’t think of it as “bad luck” or “wasted time” but rather as a challenge that you need to solve creatively.

What do you do or photograph on overcast or rainy days? Share your ideas below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty and Axiom Photographic and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others. To keep up to date with his latest news follow him on his Facebook page

  • Amaryllis

    That last shot looks amazing. Very useful article for the coming days for me! The weather dudette said there would be rain until Monday, so that’ll definitely come in handy 🙂

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    wow.. great article. For me, it is the time for more detail than worrying about dynamic range. Task has been simplified

  • Kav Dadfar

    I’m glad you’ve found the article useful. And fingers crossed that the weather men are wrong.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Absolutely. There are lots of things to photograph on these sort of days.

  • I just love shooting when the weather is bad. A blue sky is so boring, give me at least a few clouds… or better, a big storm 😀

  • Kav Dadfar

    Certainly does make things more interesting doesn’t it? A beautiful landscape with a moody and stormy sky is just fantastic. I’m a huge fan! However, unfortunately commercially, sunshine and blue skies in photos do sell better.

  • onyonet

    I tell new photographers creating landscape and nature photos on cloudy days is always better than sunny days. If it’s a little rainy, all the better. The clouds are a giant light diffuser making it easier to deal with contrast, not mention saturating the colors more. If it’s rainy, all the better. The rain cleans everything off, saturates the colors even more and puts a nice shine on leaves and things.

    When the clouds start to break up, the Sun can act like spotlight.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Nice work and yes rainy and cloudy days certainly don’t mean you need to stop photographing

  • Chuck Cornell

    I am currently visiting my Son and grandkids in rainy Washington. It rained all day yesterday. If you let that stop you from photographing you will miss out on lots of good shots. I lugged my heavy tripod over 7 miles of trails yesterday. It rained nearly the whole time.

  • Chuck Cornell

    I am currently visiting my Son and grandkids in rainy Washington. It rained all day yesterday. If you let that stop you from photographing you will miss out on lots of good shots. I lugged my heavy tripod over 7 miles of trails yesterday. It rained nearly the whole time

  • Kav Dadfar

    Good on you Chuck for persevering and also for carrying your tripod all that way! Believe me I know all about how heavy tripods can feel on a long hike so well done. And nice shots.

  • onyonet

    Thanks Kav.

  • Yksvoklam Naj

    I did the water fall, food and also just went and did what I had planned and came out grade, the dramatic sky was great in my picture. I live out of my van so I get to travel a bit for my pictures, its great because you can wait out the weather if you need to as well.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Good man. Nice waterfall shot! Where is it?

  • It rained almost the entire time I was in Alaska last week, but it made for some great skies full of texture and interest. I think I prefer stormy weather for photographing. http://www.camerastupid.com/seaplanes-at-lake-hood-anchorage-alaska/

  • Kav Dadfar

    Great shot. And no problems with prefering stormy skies. My heart loves stormy weather shots as they look dramatic and fantastic but my head (which thinks commercially) prefers nice sunny shots when I’m on an assignment as they tend to sell better.

  • Yksvoklam Naj

    sorry for the very late reply its in Czech republic

  • Dinesh K Khunt

    I will do most when going on shoot and whether will not support you. Then you have to take pause and closed your eyes for some times and breathing. After that use your creativity on different mode. Like explore another thing of that area. Like tradition, food, or daily life of that place and another way is portrait of that local area people. It’s will help you and motivate you to be with them. That I most do in every situation.

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