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How to shoot a portrait in the rain

To shoot a backlit portrait in the rain – even when it’s not actually raining

Time: 30 minutes

Skill level: Intermediate

Kit needed: D-SLR, Wide-angle lens, Tripod, Flashgun, Wireless flash triggers, Freezer bag, Light stand, Garden hose, Model, Assistant

When it’s rainy outside, or even if it’s just cloudy, it’s tempting to stay inside and read the latest issue of N-Photo. The last thing you’d expect to be shooting is a portrait outside, but with a flashgun and some open space, you can capture a romantic, sparkling image in a matter of minutes. (This is a  technique that would work well for couples who want to shoot something a bit unusual.)

So what do you need to do? First, the more overcast it is, the better, as this will make it easier to under-expose the ambient light for a background that’s dark and moody. Next, you’ll need to find a clear space outside. Get your model to stand a few feet in front of you, and place a Speedlight behind them, to be triggered remotely. 

• Essential portrait photography tips

If it’s not raining, turn the hose on and get your assistant to put their thumb over the end of it, aiming the water just in front of the model, and towards the camera a little. The Speedlight, which will be hidden by your model, will shoot through the water drops and backlight them, producing some beautiful bokeh and providing a dramatic rimlight around your model.  Let’s take a look at the process...

So what do you need to do? Gather the equipment on our list (left), then go outside with a couple of friends and a garden hose and start shooting. It’s as simple as that. (Although you may want to bring your waterproof coat too!)

Find a clear space outside and get your model to stand a few feet in front of you. Place a Speedlight behind them, to be triggered remotely. Turn the hose on and get your assistant to put their thumb over the end of the hose, aiming it just in front of the model and towards the camera a little. The Speedlight will shoot through the water drops and light them up. There will be beautiful bokeh of rain drops throughout the image and a rim light around your model. Let’s take a look at the process.

STEP BY STEP: Take the weather with you


All you really need is a clear space outside where it’s relatively quiet, and which has somewhere where you can hook up your hose. For most people, the garden is ideal. If it’s raining, you can of course do it anywhere, but try to ensure you can include the sky in the background. 


Mount the camera on a tripod and place it a few feet from where you intend to shoot your model. The wide-angle lens will distort the perspective of the scene. Accentuate this effect by getting down low to the ground. This will also make it easier to fit in more rain above the model.


Engage Live View and direct your model to stand a few feet away, in the right third of the frame. Ensure there’s room for droplets around them. Set manual focus, zoom in, and adjust your focus manually until the model is sharp, then place a mark on the ground beneath them.


With your focus locked in, and your model stood on their mark, fix the wireless trigger to your Speedlight, mount it on a light stand and place it behind the model, pointing towards the camera. Pop a freezer bag over the flashgun to stop it getting wet.


If your scene is still too bright when shooting at your lens’s smallest aperture, add a neutral density filter to darken the whole scene. We used a Lee Little Stopper, which is a six-stop ND filter


Put the flash trigger on your camera’s hotshoe and set your flash to full power. In manual mode, set a shutter speed  of 1/200 sec at IS0100, and then stop down the aperture until the background is really dark and under-exposed. You may need to adjust the flash power, too. 


Remember your model will need to be recognisable in silhouette – a prop, such as an umbrella, can help with this. You may need to experiment with the position of the Speedlight, and your distance from the model, to get the look you’re after.