When it’s pouring rain, taking outdoor portraits is not the first thing most of us would do. But Japan-based photographer Ilko Alexandroff uses the rain to his advantage. He takes amazing backlit portraits in the rain, and they make it worth getting wet. In his latest video, he shares plenty of his gorgeous backlit rainy portraits. He will give you a tutorial on how to take them, from light position to camera settings. And of course, he’ll give you some advice how to protect your camera and strobes so the rain doesn’t ruin them.
There is one thing you need to be aware of, although it may sound obvious: you need to get ready to get really wet. You, your model, all your gear – everything will be wet after shooting. So if you want to get the best results – be ready to spend some time in the rain and get wet.
Of course, it would be great if you had a rugged camera and lens for shooting in the rain. However, most modern DLSR and mirrorless cameras and lenses can stand a certain amount of rain, so you should be fine with any gear you have. Still, I’d suggest you protect them, and there will be some methods mentioned later in the text.
Ilko uses a Canon 1D X, and he’s taken a bunch of these rainy portraits with Canon 5D Mark II. Both of the cameras are still working fine. As for the lenses, you can use long ones like 135mm or 85mm (Ilko recommends Sigma 135mm f/1.8) or you can go for a wide-angle lens like 28mm. It all depends on what you want to achieve.
When it comes to the lighting, simple speedlights should be enough. For some setups, you’ll need two of those, and sometimes only one would be enough. Ilko uses Nissin MG8000, and of course, you can go with any speedlight you already have. For some shots, you’ll need a bare flash, but for the others, it’s recommended to use an umbrella or a softbox.
There are plenty of gorgeous photos in Ilko’s tutorial, but he divides them into six groups. They are taken using six different setups. The first four only include one backlight, and the last two include both the back and the front light.
1. Backlight (silhouette)
The first setup involves only a bare flash as the backlight. This will “freeze” all the water droplets in the air, and your subject will be a silhouette.
2. Backlight + reflect it from something
For this setup, you also need just one speedlight behind the subject, but with a big reflecting surface to bounce some light back to the subject. The backlight can reflect off a white wall, for example, and fill in the subject’s face.
3. Backlight + a lit object (e.g. shopping window)
For this setup, you’ll use the flash as the backlight, and a large lit object, such as a shopping window, to light the subject.
4. Backlight + RAW editing for the face
You can shoot with only one backlight, and keep the post-processing in mind. You can edit the RAW image so you adjust the exposure of the subject’s face and make it brighter.
5. Front light + backlight
For this setup, you’ll need two lights. A bare flash should be behind the subject. For the front light, you can use a speedlight with a modifier on the left or the right side of the subject’s face.
6. Cross lighting
The final setup also uses the front and the backlight. Only this time, the backlight is not directly behind the subject, but placed on the left or on the right.
Aperture – Ilko mainly uses portrait lenses, and he loves shooting with wide aperture. When using the Sigma 125mm f/1.8 – he uses the f/1.8. of course, you’ll adapt this to your needs and preferences.
Shutter speed – the shutter speed depends on the final result you aim to achieve. If you want only to light the rain drops and don’t want the background to show, you should use faster shutter speed (1/200). If you want to include the background, go for the slower shutter speed.
ISO – the backlit rain portraits work best after sunset or in the dark. So, the ISO should usually be high, around 800-1000.
White balance – the white balance depends on the light source, but you can get creative with it and use gels to add different tones to the photos.
Placing the backlight
Generally, the backlight should be hidden behind your subject in order to illuminate the model and the rain properly. However, you can let a bit of that light into the camera to create an interesting effect, just don’t overdo it.
When you include the ground in the image, the backlight can illuminate the ground so it becomes really bright and takes away from your subject. To avoid this, point the light a bit upwards so the brightest part of the image is your model and not the background.
The distance of the backlight can change the overall look of the image and of the rain. When you place the speedlight closer to the subject, the rain will be clearly visible and illuminated. When you move the backlight away, it will look like there’s no rain. This is because the illuminated droplets are far from the subject, and they’re blurred because of the long lens and/or large aperture.
Protecting the gear
It’s also important to protect the strobes, and for them, you can also use rain covers or plastic bags. Keep in mind that the bag/cover needs to be transparent or white, so it doesn’t add a color tint to your photos.
Okay, now that you’ve seen all these wonderful examples and the guidelines – are you ready to use the next rainfall for taking some photos?