By looking at my rather anemic astrophoto gallery from April, one can easily assume that the April weather in Northeast Ohio wasn't all that great. Well, to call it “not all that great” was an understatement. This April, the Cleveland area shattered a 50 year old rainfall record for rainiest April since records began in 1871. Honestly, I can't recall a night that was clear from dusk to dawn. On top of that, when the nights were clear, there seemed to be either a bright Moon (of course!) and/or a lot of wind, which would probably have blown over the camera when it was trying to take pictures.
However, during a rainstorm last week, I decided to make chicken soup out of chicken **** and try my hand at photographing rain. Okay, so what? Well, this wasn't just any rain photography, but I was trying to freeze the drops in mid-fall without any streaking. And guess what, I succeeded, and here's how you can freeze rain mid fall, too.
First of all, as with freezing any fast-moving object in photography, a high shutter speed is required, rain in mid-fall being no exception. To freeze rain, try and get at least a 1/2000th second speed on your camera. Anything slower and there's always a chance of trailing, depending on the angle of your lens, with longer lenses requiring even faster speeds.
Second, the point of focus is a huge concern. As in many kinds of photography, one often tries to isolate the subject. When it comes to rain and a subject that is just a fraction of an inch across, this is extremely vital as a picture's impact can be dramatically lessened by drops slightly out of focus in front of and behind the focus point. Taking this into consideration, manually set focus so that it will fall on the nearest rain possible. Example: if you're shooting from a window guarded by a 3 foot roof overhang, set distance for 3 feet.
Third, placement is key. When shooting through a window, especially one that can be wet, and focusing at a distance of only a few feet, it is of vital importance that you get your lens right up to the glass or, not surprisingly, the window (or the things on it) may show up in and distract from your picture.
Fourth, play around. To get optimal picture quality, play around with your settings like ISO, and aperture. If you have an extremely fast lens like f2 or faster, it may be best to stop down to f2.8 or even f4 to catch rain clearly. Any less depth of field may result in all but a few drops being out of focus. Second, depending on the speed of the drops and the brightness of the day, you may be able to get by with a slightly slower shutter speed. If this describes you, why not knock down the ISO and preserve some technical image quality?
Fifth, keep expectations realistic. Freezing rain mid-fall is not an easy thing to do and making it look good on top of it is even harder. Remember, photography, especially with the costless digital technique, is all about fun, so don't stress over raindrops.
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