I’m giving myself a photo challenge. I am going to purposely go out in rain to practice photography. I only have a few photographs that I have taken in rain, showers or fog. It was not my purpose to take advantage of the rain. I took them because I happened to be someplace where it happened to be raining. What popped in my mind today was that wet weather can be used to show a scene in a more interesting way and I need to practice that.
Panning for a good photograph
For example, I was in Florence, Italy a few years ago and it happened to be raining. And I was miserable. I hate rain – but if I was in Europe and on vacation. I was certainly not going to let the rain stop me from exploring a city. I was with professional landscape photographer, Brenda Tharp (super creative and a good friend), and she started “panning” on umbrellas to create a beautiful abstract picture. “Panning” is a technique where you set a very low shutter speed on your camera and then move your camera as you are taking a photo. That’s the most technical explanation that me – a non-technical person can give. For the non-photographer here is my easy to understand explanation: you are intentionally creating a blurry photo. Everyone has taken a photo and realized that the clicking sound of the shutter was very slow. That happens because the light is taking a long to hit your camera’s sensor to make the picture. Generally, when that happens any movement that has occurred while the shutter was open will be recorded, and therefore blurred.
To create the umbrella image above, I spotted someone walking with an umbrella. I kept my focus on the umbrella as I pressed the shutter down. As Mr. Umbrella Walker walked, the only thing I moved was my camera focused on his umbrella until I heard the shutter close. So, press to take my picture – follow umbrella until I hear the closing click of the shutter – then look at the back of my camera to see what I got. Out of the 50 to 75 photos I took that day, the image above was the one that I really like. And by the end of this exercise, I forgot that I was standing out in the rain being miserable. I was back to being happy that I was in a place that I had dreamed about visiting for years. This is the place where the Renaissance began. I could be stepping on the same stones that Michelangelo could have stepped on.
My love of Florence
If I had an ounce of talent and could do it all over again, I would be an artist; hence my love for Florence. Florence was everything I dreamed and then some. I was dying to go to world-famous museums like the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. And there were lesser-known and visited places that were nice like Bargello (if you like sculpture) to visit. There are also churches, other galleries and museums tucked all around the city that boast lesser-known masterpieces by Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio, and Donatello (to name a few) to be seen.
You can go on “art overload” if you spend more than 3 days in Florence and try and cram in every museum possible. For me, that doesn’t sound like a vacation. The best advice here is to hit a museum then go out and enjoy the city. The historic center is very walkable and the number of places to sit back and people watch are immeasurable. Find a seat at a café or gelato shop and enjoy watching life happen around you.
Back to photography
Panning does take a little practice, but it is still hit or miss. Sometimes I can take 50 photos and get nothing; other times I get something nice on the first or second try. Also, unless I told you that I took this in Florence, Italy you would never know. For me, this is the downside to this photo. Instead of panning, stake out a landmark and look for a brightly colored umbrella in a sea of black ones. A red umbrella in front of the Eiffel Tower; or walking through Times Square can to your photos to the next level. You are probably saying to yourself, “well most people don’t walk around with a red umbrella!” Yes, I know. That’s why when you see the guys who magically appear with umbrellas on the street corner anytime it rains in the city, choose the one that will stand out. Then go to your landmark, ask your fellow travel companions to allow you to photograph them from the back. I think umbrellas also make a great prop for portrait photos. Take a loved one’s portrait standing with an umbrella by a famous landmark. There are endless possibilities here – have fun with it. After all, you paid a lot of money to go on vacation. Enjoy the time while you have the opportunity to do so and record your memories. I guarantee when you look back on those photos you will be instantly transported back to that time and that place and it will put a smile on your face (hopefully).
Creating a Moody Image
Fog and mist often accompany rain and you can use that to your advantage when you are trying to evoke a feeling with your photography. Last year, my friend Kathie and her husband were coming up to visit. I decided to take them to dinner at the Liberty House in Jersey City since there are great opportunities to walk around Liberty State Park and take photos of the NYC skyline. Well, at least that was the plan. The day she and her husband flew in, it was rainy, foggy and misty. The good news was that by the time we got to Liberty State Park, it had stopped raining, although it was still pretty misty. Not what I was expecting for taking photos of a skyline. I figured that any picture I took that night would be a throw-away shot. However, when I downloaded my images to my surprise I liked them. I liked how the fog covers the tops of some of the buildings. It makes me feel like the fog added mystery to this scene. The lesson for me was that sometimes you have to work with what you have – not what you expected you were going to have. If you can do that you may come away with something better than you expected.
For me, water drops can be that extra little detail that will make your photo a little more memorable. Take the photo above. The first thing you see is the butterfly, but then as you are looking, you notice the little droplets of water on the butterfly’s legs. I took this photo at the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House in Pennington, NJ. When I woke that morning was pretty rainy and cool so I thought this might be a good opportunity to photograph butterflies. Why? First, because when it is overcast you will not get harsh shadows from the sun and it is easier to see the bright colors of the butterflies. At least that is my opinion. The other reason that I prefer to try and photograph butterflies on days like these is that generally, the butterflies will be moving slower. They cannot warm up their wings as easily when there is no sun. They are more likely to sit on a branch for a longer period of time which gives you a better opportunity to focus. Again, totally my opinion. It works for me.
Hopefully, we will have at least 1 more rainy day in April so that I can complete my self-imposed photo assignment. Should it be successful, be assured I will post my results. If I’m not successful, I’ll just forget that I ever wrote this post!
P.S – drop me a line if you want more information on Florence or how I took these photos.