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How to Capture Raindrops to Create Surreal-looking Portraits

You can alter the feel of a photo significantly by making effective use of pouring rain. In this article, I will share how you can use an external flash to produce beautiful, surreal-looking portraits in the rain. (Reported by: Shoichi Asaoka)

Model in white crouching in front of night scenery in the rain

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 41mm/ Manual exposure (f/2.8, 1/15 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

Using two off-camera flashes with slow sync flash technique brightened the raindrops to create a surreal atmosphere, where the model appears to be bathed in divine light.


Setup diagram

Extra equipment
- 2 Speedlites
- Remote trigger
- Bounce flash reflector/softbox

1. Position the model 
2. Determine the exposure settings that allow the nightscape to be captured without a flash
3. Set up one Speedlite each behind and to the diagonal front of the model

Here are more details about each step.


Step 1: Visualise your shot and position the model

Details such as the background and reflections from the road surface can affect your shot. Be very aware of them as you do your setup.

For this shot, I took into consideration how the illuminated panels in the background gradually became smaller one after the other, as well as their balance with the colour of the light. To balance out the composition, I framed the shot so that there was empty space to the left when seen from the front.


Step 2: Expose for the background

Light from the flash will not reach the background. To ensure that the night scenery at the back will still be captured beautifully, find the exposure settings that will make the background look properly exposed even without the flash. This also determines the overall brightness of the image.

For step-by-step instructions on how to find the best exposure for slow sync flash, click here.

Tip: I took this shot by hand, but as for all slow shutter speed shots, using a tripod helps to minimise camera shake.


Step 3: Set up one flash unit each behind and to the front left of the model

Finally, set up the Speedlites and adjust their flash output. To fire the flashes off-camera, you will need to use a wireless transmitter, also known as a flash trigger.

(New to using a Speedlite? Familiarise yourself with it in Start Flash Photography in 9 Steps!)

I placed one Speedlite behind the model to brighten the raindrops and cast direct light onto the model at the same time.

The other Speedlite was placed to the diagonal front of the model to light her from the front. I attached a bounce flash reflector to it to diffuse the light and prevent it from getting too harsh. I made sure that this setup could stand on its own. 


My must-have: Rogue FlashBender S


The FlashBender is a useful item that can work as a softbox as well as a bounce flash reflector. A flexible wire is built into the back, which enables you to adjust its shape easily, making it a great tool for shaping light.

Find out more about light modifiers in:
Cosplay Photography Techniques (1): Lighting Gear



- If you are not familiar with using multiple flashes simultaneously...

  • Try controlling them individually first.
  • You might also want to use your built-in flash/ an on-camera flash that can act as a master to trigger the off-camera flashes.
  • It's possible to try using another light source (such as an LED torch)  to help you light the model, but the results will look slightly different. For example, while a flash freezes the raindrops; constant lighting could cause them to be captured as streaks.

For more tips on shooting with multiple flashes, check out:
Multi-flash Photography

- If you are having trouble nailing focus with the AF in the darkness... 

  • Shine a light on the model to help. Remember to turn it off before you shoot.


Note: Get everything (and everyone) out of the rain as soon as you can

This is one scene where you don't have the luxury of time to experiment. Each time you change the position of the model or the camera, you will also have to change the positions of the flashes and readjust your flash output. However, the heavy rain can cause your model’s hairstyle and clothes to go out of shape. You don't want the model or your gear to be out there getting soaked for too long either. Decide the position of the model quickly, and work as efficiently as you can. 

Tip: Use rain protection to further protect your gear from rain damage. This might buy you some time, but you should still try to work fast!

For more tips and tutorials on light setups, check out:
Cosplay Photography Techniques (3): Examples of Different Lighting Setups
2 Simple One-Light Techniques for Gorgeous Day/Night Wedding Portraits
Taking Dramatic Food Photos in Chiaroscuro Style


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Shoichi Asaoka

Shoichi Asaoka

Born in 1973 in Tokyo. Besides photographing subjects as models and merchandise for advertisements, Asaoka also produces a range of works that capture models in snapshots or together with evening or night views.