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It’s every client’s nightmare: what happens if you book a photoshoot – and when the day arrives it’s in the pouring rain.

Whether for commercial, wedding or family photography it’s the same problem. If you’ve organised models & products, or invited all your friends and families or gathered together three family generations – you want the weather to play ball and give you some good light & warmth.

In this blog I’m going to look at a family photoshoot which was shot in the rain and heavy cloud. Scheduled for a Monday, it eventually took place on the following Friday! But it didn’t stop me capturing some great family moments..

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The weather

The weather is one of those factors that’s completely out of our control – and getting worse, assuming you’re a climate change believer.

As a photographer it’s also a nightmare, particularly in the UK. Our weather patterns have become so haphazard. Even previously ‘safe’ months (our early spring/summer/early autumn) of May-September have become a roll of the dice.

So what do you do as a photographer?

For weddings you just have to roll with it – the date isn’t going to move. Cameras & rain aren’t a good mix – so invest in a decent waterproof cover (I use the excellent AquaTech Sport Shield) which allows you some basic control of your camera & lens. And actually it’s one of the secrets of wedding photography: rain makes everyone curiously funny and behave hilariously…

But for commercial and family shoots it’s tricky. Often so much – time, people, equipment, locations etc etc – have been organised that it’s impossible to cancel.

The family

The Nursaw family had gathered together three generations from all over the UK in a rare getting-together to celebrate a big birthday at the ever-excellent Watergate Bay Hotel. They had commissioned me – months earlier – to photograph them all there. Luckily they were booked in for a week! The shoot was scheduled for Monday – but after a week of weather watching and daily nervous phonecalls back and forth…we ended up doing the shoot on Friday, their last morning before they headed home.

So that’s my first tip as a photographer: try to be as flexible as your diary allows. This will be hugely appreciated. Irrespective of the weather, at the time of booking I always book in a primary and secondary date – so that seed has been sown and it’s not a shock or worry for the client when the weather (or indeed illness etc) scuppers the primary date. I guarantee the primary date – whereas the secondary date is always moveable if other work comes in – and I’m very open and honest about this with the client.

Watergate beach is a long and very exposed beach. I’ve shot multiple weddings and family photoshoots there. My usual problem is the reverse: too much sun, too much light! For weddings I wait for last light before I take couples out onto the sand – and for families there are a few spots I know where I can shoot portraits in the shade.

Underexposure

So for the Nursaw family I used the heavy cloud to bring in some detail and contrast to the sky in some early action shots of them playing cricket.

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Yes a clear blue sky would probably be preferential for the client – but it wasn’t an option this entire particular week! So I slightly underexposed to make sure there was some detail in the sky. And – of course! – later in Lightroom burnt in more detail using the graduated filter. The result is a moody but impressionistic skyscape completely in keeping with the moment (& indeed the warmer clothing being worn).

Overexposure

Conversely I also used a (brief!) moment of hazy sunshine-through-cloud to create a bright white sky, whilst shooting an action group portrait of the entire family jumping.

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This time slight overexposure has created a much cleaner image, with no background detail other than the sand and white sky – which in turn isolates the main subject: the family group.

Soft portrait light

Moving down to the sea’s edge, the increasingly heavy cloud makes great portrait light – the sky has basically become a giant softbox.

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I love this kind of light. While I always bring a flashgun, I try not to use it…maybe just occasionally outside for some fill-flash or if I’m utterly desperate indoors. But in this light there’s no need for it – and you’re rewarded with soft pastel colours, great skin tones and a fully defined and naturally lit face.

Literally running back from the sea towards the relative shelter of the cliffs as it started to rain, I snapped this moment.

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While it is actually raining – fairly hard – in this photograph (pixel peepers can check the above the stripey Breton shirt) I used a faster than usual shutter – 1/400 – to avoid the long streaks of rain which you get at regular shutters of 1/125-1/200. It’s just a little trick but it all helps. I remember this moment in the photoshoot as rainy, but it doesn’t look like it’s raining in the photograph.

Vignetting

Generally I’m not a huge fan of vignetting – it can look really contrived. But it can also help you out, big time. Particularly when you want to burn in a bit of sky detail…

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…ah, just that hint of some blue sky! Even if it’s not actually blue sky…it’s strong cloud but it burns in blue and just frames the moment subtly.

Vignetting can also be used to isolate a main subject, especially if the surrounding frame is very empty.

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Not your usual family photograph I know…and it probably isn’t going to be framed on the Nursaw family mantlepiece! But it’s a moment – and you’ve got to catch them all. It was getting late in the photoshoot, in the rain and the poor lad was getting tired and hungry! He was much happier a bit earlier:

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Those rain-filled clouds, that giant softbox of sky is also perfect….for black and white photography.

And finally…

So all is not lost on a photoshoot if you don’t have those perfect blue skies that the client was imagining – actually the heavy cloud that comes with rain can be used effectively in several ways.

Thank you so much to the lovely Nursaw family for enduring a week of uncertainty & for being so engaging, relaxed and dynamic on the day when we finally managed to nail the photoshoot!

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