Whether you're at home or on vacation, one of the things that you can never avoid (especially if you travel with me) are rainy days. I seem to attract rainy days to my travels like a magnet and the moment I decide to go somewhere and start checking the forecasts, it's rain, rain, rain. (The week after I return, of course, it's sunshine all the way.)
Since you can't avoid the rain, sooner or later you're going to get frustrated enough to go out and try to find pictures anyway. And you can find good pictures in the rain (though I hate to admit it) if you're willing to get yourself and your camera a bit wet (a zipper bag is a good place to keep your camera until you're ready to shoot): kids splashing in puddles, colorful umbrellas at the bus stop and neon signs reflecting in puddles are all nice subjects.
Another fun way to get photos of the rain (and to stay a bit dryer) is to photograph through rain-covered glass, whether it's the windshield of your car or the front window at the local Starbucks. By focusing on the glass and using a wide aperture (to limit depth of field) you can create some very pretty impressionistic pictures--which is how I made this shot. After several hours of driving around Amish farms outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on a nice sunny day, a storm came up suddenly and it rained so hard we literally had to pull off into a driveway to wait things out. The wipers were in a very slow-motion mode and I noticed that just before the arm swung over to clear the window again, the barn ahead of us took on a watercolor-like charm, so I focused on the glass and let the barn go completely out of focus.
The trick to these kind of windshield shots (and the same goes for shooting from a house or coffee shop window) is to focus manually on the windshield and not the background. If you focus on the background you'll simply put the scene out of focus. But by focusing on the glass surface, you can get some really interesting patterns of raindrops framing your scene. And again, by using a wide aperture, the depth of field will be shallow and your subject will be totally out of focus. If you're using a point-and-shoot camera that won't let you focus manually, just try to place the camera close enough to the glass so that the lens focuses on the window and not the background; it takes a few tries sometimes, but I've done it with point-and-shoot cameras.
Of course, you could also fake this effect on a perfectly clear day by spraying a sheet of window glass with a spray bottle and focusing on the glass--a great way to shoot an Monet-like image of a garden or vase of flowers. Just ask a friend to hold the glass steady or use a pair of old light stands and some cheap clamps to hold the glass in place.
I hate rain as much as any photographer but there are some fun photos out there to be found even during the most miserable of days. And I'll try to keep this upbeat thought in my head next time it's pouring and I'm stuck in a $75-a-day rent-a-car cruising through the countryside.
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