How a $10 leaky hose pipe can make a $1000 photograph

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Creating a good rain effect in a studio photograph is much harder than you would think. As human beings we are so used to seeing rain as something in motion, yet photography wants to freeze it. Rain in video is much easier and much more convincing.

Ideally you want to get a lot of water falling, with very little power, in a wide area. I've used a really simple but neat trick to do this - a leaky garden hose. The hose is sold especially for slow watering of plant beds, but if you turn the pressure up you get a really good flow of water. You can then spread the hose out over an area to create a good width and depth.

This is completely different to a shower which tends to push the water down in one single column; it has no real width to it.

Second problem is lighting it. For this shoot I've used continuous light and hence a slower shutter speed. Flash just freezes the water in a mid-air and you lose the sense of rain - instead you just get frozen droplets of water (an interesting effect in its own right, but not rain).

Third problem is you really want to backlight the water to give a proper sparkle. Now in my studio I can't do that. My wet area is in a corner (actually normally it is an open shower for glamour style photographs). So I have had to light the water from one side to get the best look I can.

I'm using very long shutter speeds, around 1/4 second to 1 whole second, so camera shake and motion blur from the model is an issue. Expect to lose a lot of images to one or both.

In the first image there is just a slight softness in the pose, particularly around the head which must have moved slightly in the 1/4 second shot. There is almost no "rain" visible at all, but the running water across the body has come out beautifully with a terrific combination of sparkle and shadow giving it depth.

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In this full length shot the water drops are now clearly visible, lots of short and longer drops depending on their distance from the camera. I've also added some additional drops in post processing.

The pose is a very strong contemporary pose and the water runs onto and flows off the body in really interesting ways.

The very high contrast lighting has a real sense of drama.

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I mentioned earlier that the slow shutter speed is an issue. This shot is at 1/3 second and although extremely blurred I actually really like it. What we call a "pleasing lack of definition".

The motion blur, rain drops, gaping mouth and closed eyes all smushed together create a really ambiguous image that I like. Certainly not one I intended but out of all the blurred shots this one stood out to me. Always be prepared to find something out of the ordinary.


key points

Freeze water droplets with flash; have rain moving with continuous lights.

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