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Wet Weather Photography

Does our weather put a damper on your photography, or open up a wealth of opportunities, lets look at how we can plan to get out and take photos on more days.

Britain is an exciting place to photograph, with its variety of weather and the changeable nature of both weather and light conditions. Many from around the world have commented at how ideal Britain is as a photographic location, with its four seasons, and changeability. While some here may like the idea of continuous predictable dry warm days, there is a cost for this in a lower variety of plant life and unless irrigation takes place, few lush green areas.

The difficulty our weather often presents to us is that with other commitments, like work, family and having to just be somewhere else, we are unable generally to drop everything and take the best days and work on the wet ones, and while it does not rain hard on many days throughout the year, recent summers have had a lot of wetter days.

There has perhaps been a shift in the way that weather forecasts are now presented, it now appears that very many more days rain is being forecast, and many of us have spotted that on many of these days, it does not rain. With the absolute fortune that has been spent on weather forecasting, you might feel they should be more accurate than throwing a dice, yet the dice may have the advantage at this time. Over recent years many areas of the UK have experienced flash floods, and with instant media coverage now, we all get to hear about it. I think its the effect of this and the forecasters being ridiculed for not warning of sudden flash flooding, that has resulted in the switch to predicting rain on more days.

Weather forecasts we find are often quite accurate over longer dry spells, but in wet and in particular changeable or showery days, are of little value as presented on TV, as its far too much of a generalisation covering too large an area. Its also often noticeable that you get a national and local forecast that can be quite different.

Onboard the Raven one of the Ullswater Steamers, that runs on Ullswater Lake,
in the Lake District on a Wet summer morning

It is very difficult to know what the weather will be on many days, in that as clouds go over often one valley will have rain and the next not, on occasions here we look out of our front window and its raining and the back and its not, this is we think to do with the shape of the hills around the town. We often see on the weather forecasts maps and forecasters saying it is cloudy and raining here, while we have perfectly blue skies, it appears they are on a different planet or perhaps London is a long way from Gloucestershire in predictive terms. Historically the forecast of the week ahead on the BBC programme Countryfile on Sundays, have often been the most useful, they tend to show what is happening more. The most useful forecasts we have discovered is one of the many choices available from the BBC Weather website, and shows the pattern of weather, both going back quite a few hours and showing actual radar satellite shots of clouds and rain, as at each hour, then the forward prediction of this at 3 hourly steps, for a couple of days and then a couple more days just showing day and night predictions. This can be stepped forward or run as a slideshow. This is updated constantly, and does change quite a lot, so you can't look at a particular shower prediction in an area several days ahead and expect this to happen, but at least you can see the sequence of what is going on and get a better understanding of the the pattern, allowing you to get some idea of what is likely a couple of days or so in advance, and perhaps prior to going out, an idea of if its likely to rain and if so at about what time. You can see this BBC section by clicking here, it will open up in a new widow. We have also added it to our weather page in the reference section.

Planning to get out and about in showery or changeable weather

In order to get out and take photos when we have the time available, we need to look at how we can use the forecast, and other actions we can take to allow us more chance of getting photographs and avoiding getting ourselves and our equipment wet.

Using the forecasting tool on the BBC website we have looked at above, its often clear that we are likely to have rain in some parts of the country but not in others. In order to be able to go in any direction we try to have at least 4 photo days planned, one north-ish, one south-ish, one east-ish and one west-ish. We can then look the night before and select from the most likely dry spots the best option to take. If its very changeable it may be that we check this again in the morning and switch to another day choice if this would be better.

We can also use the photographers calendar on this website, to see what is on and in the direction we would like to go, giving us other alternatives.

Photos only available in this weather

Some of the best cloud shots, and interesting views with interesting clouds, are often obtained on days when its changeable, when you might get a shower or two, but at other times you get large white clouds floating through a blue sky. In some days complete cloud can give you other benefits, for example soft diffused lighting, free of many shadows, and people have their eyes fully open, rather than squinting to keep out the sun or wearing sun glasses. Its also the ideal time to play with white balance and potentially to look at using effects that you can get. Its a chance to use the ISO settings, white balance and effects, and perhaps think ahead to how you will edit some of these photos, perhaps a little, warming, a little increase in contrast......

Planning to go out when showers are predicted everywhere

There are a variety of photographic opportunities that don't require us to be out all the time. In many of these cases we are inside a part of the time and outside some of the time, and providing we have shelter, we can have a good days photography although through the day a number of showers will go past us. Lets look at a few of these:-

Riding on steam or preservation railways. In most cases the rover ticket that you have allows you to ride on as many trains as you like in the day, you can get on and off the train, and providing you choose to do this at stations or halts with shelters, the chance of you getting wet is minimal. Steam trains go quite slow on most lines and you will find that you can photograph out of open windows without difficulty. Often in stations, at cross over points, you can take images of other trains and of course when out on platforms you get shots of train's in the station, approaching, leaving and often the empty station between trains. You could just stop off at each station or halt along the line, but you will find this way you spend little time on the train and a lot of time waiting. Another alternative on a line with a lot of stations is to work out a pattern where you go two thirds of the way up the line, then go back a  third, then to the end of the line, then back to half way and the like, so that you time your arrival to you spend less time on platforms between rides, so spend longer riding and less time standing and waiting. If a shower is going over the station you had planned to get out at, you can always go on to another and come back to this one later in the day.  As you ride, make a note of the places you can see where on another day you could get good photos, perhaps you can hear the engine chugging away on an uphill slope and then you see a bridge that would have a good view, or you see a clear side of an embankment you are on  and river or canal with boats next to it, perhaps you see a hill that would give a good viewpoint. Often the handout on the railway has a map of the line, and this may be detailed enough to work out where you are, otherwise just make notes now, for example between two defined stations just before you see a church on the left and a lake on the right. Later with a map online, you will be able to work out where this is. Also if you can note where the light is and the time now, this will give you a good idea as to the best time to go to this location in the future. If you are likely to come back and get a line side pass and walk a part of the line, you may also like to note access points near to interesting stretches. See the railway section for details on preservation railway lines.

Living museums. Living museums usually have a number of buildings brought from various sites and a large proportion of these you can go in. Providing its not constantly raining, you can progress in the open between showers and go into the buildings when a shower goes over. Its probably best to select a location to visit that has the lowest chance of longer showers. See the living museums section for locations.

Castles, stately homes, National Trust properties and the like. These break into two types, ones that are largely complete and open top shells. Although some of the shells may have some roofed or other sections that provide cover, select the ones that are more complete for the days when its more likely to have passing showers. When you arrive take a good look at the sky from the direction weather is approaching from, if it looks as if you are likely to have a good dry spell, then photograph the gardens and grounds first, if  its about to rain or a shower is in progress either wait in your car a bit and see if it goes over quickly or go and see the inside first. See the Castles Section for locations.

Cathedrals and abbeys in use. In some cases you will be asked to pay an entry fee and this includes permission to take photos, (Wells Cathedral = 5) and in some cases you don't have to pay an entry fee but are required to buy a low cost photo permit to take photos (Tewkesbury Abbey around 7).  There is no cost or restriction usually on taking external photos, and of course you can always take whatever photos you like from any public place. Cost's and restrictions apply only to internal shots. On some of the websites this is covered, in other cases you will need to call or email them first, check this website as well, we will shortly have location guides on some of these. Each has its own cost, and in some cases some restrictions of bits or items they don't like photographed. Interior photos are very effective when done with available light, but you need a tripod for this. Flash is only really effective when looking a specific features unless you are going to light it with loads of flash units. You can also do a variety of experiments such as multiple exposures, and multiple exposures with flash in different directions, using a longer exposure and powerful torch to paint in detail and using Neutral density filters to extend the exposures allowing this or just to remove passing people. If you are buying a photo permit then make the most of it and get both the photos you want, but also use the opportunity to experiment with other techniques. Just one point to watch for is the times of any services, at these times you wandering around with a camera may not be appreciated, while at other times you are not likely to experience any problems. When you arrive, or between the showers you can get the external photos. See the Abbey and Religious Building Section.

Animal Parks. You might think that a potentially showery day would not be a good day to drive through an animal park, such as one containing lions, or other non British wildlife, but often these days provide quite a lot of opportunities and while when it rains some animals may go for cover, in between the showers, they tend to be active and moving about, while on a sunny day they turn into door mats, lying about in the sun. You need, before you go, to check the arrangements of the park, some allow you to go through as many times as you like while some others you just get to go through once. Where you can go through a number of times is more ideal, particularly on changeable days as each trip through will tend to provide different opportunities. It also means that if the animals in one enclosure are not in ideal positions or visible you can miss them for the moment and catch them later. In most cases there are also walk around sections as well that you can visit. West Midland Safari Park in Worcestershire and Woburn in Buckinghamshire are two good examples of places that are ideal in changeable weather, in both cases you can drive through many times and there are also walk around sections as well.

Bird Reserves. Places like Slimbridge, in Gloucestershire and other WWT sites have large numbers of hides, and you get a good view from many, and can move between them when you are not going to get wet. We may say that its nice weather for ducks when its raining, but ducks tend to go into covering plants when its raining, so its not the ideal time to photograph them, waders and edge feeding types are often more inclined to put up with the weather, probably as their food is tide dependent. If its likely to be bad weather these are not ideal places to go for the day, but on days that have occasional showers they can provide both opportunities and plenty of shelter.

Multi stop days, like visiting ruined abbeys, or other places where you are out of the car to take a few photos and then back in to travel to the next place. When you have showery days these can be quite good, there are few people around, as most will tend to stay at home, and parking is also easier. The trick is to select places that you can get very close to with your car, so that if a shower starts you can get back to your car quickly. As some of these places are open all the time, you can also choose to start the day early or end it later or both.

Other places like tram museums, military museums and some sporting events also have shelter and opportunism that may offer opportunities.

On those really wet days

I have a special list I maintain of places that I could visit on wet days, and the weather will have no impact on me. For example visiting:-

* aquariums

* caves

* butterfly houses

* specialist museums, for example space, or industrial.

The list used to be longer but with the recent rather silly concern about photographers potentially being spotters for terrorists, I have for the moment knocked off my list all those places where I might have enjoyed photographing in the past, but for now don't feel its worth the potential hassle. Generally its the large cities and airports that have got removed from my list.

Preparing for wet weather opportunities

If you are finding that you are just not getting out that many days when the suns not shinning and its a cloudless day then its probably through lack of preparation, if you have several lists of places and have done a little research, then you can get out at least half the days in any week, and get good photos. In many weeks it will be more days than this. This allows you to get out when others don't, and get the photos that others will have missed.

You could go a stage further and buy wet weather protection for your camera, and you and photograph then in any weather, but in this article we are not going that far, all we have covered here can be done without any protection. In practice I have a small collapsible umbrella that I can put in my camera bag, just in case, and I have a couple of descent sized plastic bags as well, just in case it really did turn into heavy rain when I am out and I could then put my camera and lens in it. My larger camera bag is also fully waterproof, with a waterproof zip and a cover that comes out to put over it in the very worst of weather, but I don't go out in bad enough weather to need that. On occasions  I have used a large umbrella and photographed from underneath, while its been raining, but when its raining harder visibility then is often not that good. I have thought several times about getting one of the even larger umbrellas with drop down side walls that riverside fishermen use, but I don't have a great desire to photograph when its actually raining, just a desire to use more opportunities and greater proportions of our weather conditions that provide opportunities. If I had one I probably would not want to carry it.

Tourist sites don't make it easy for us to visit them, with their very restricted opening times. Why in this age is it that places don't open to 10am or 11am and need to shut at 5pm. If they were to open more, then on many potentially wet days people could decide to visit early or leave it later and work around the predicted weather. In addition we could either spend longer at each site or visit more, either case good for the tourist sites. In addition it would then be more worth staying in an area than driving back and out in another direction another day, producing more tourist traffic, trade and benefiting hotel and guest houses as well. I spent a few years living in the USA, and was often told by different people they had visited Britain but it was closed, and I understand what they meant.


There are very few days when you cannot take any outside photographs in Britain, and with a little thought and pre planning we not only get out and get photographs but also often discover opportunities and clouds that we just would not get if we were only sunny-day photographers, it also allows us to use more skills and develop wider experience.


By: Keith Park Section: Photography Key:
Page Ref: wet_weather_photography Topic: Photography  Last Updated: 10/2012

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