While the rain can emphasize a scene’s drama, it’s also difficult to film in on a professional level. Let’s explore low-budget ways to film in the rain.
First, let’s assess why you’re filming in the rain. I’m not saying this maliciously, but do you have practical motivation? After all, it’s not likely you’re going to pick up the rain correctly in-camera. There’s a reason why film and TV crews use artificial rain—and it’s not just because they can control it on a whim.
In this video tutorial, take a look at the sequence where I had to stop the action for a moment to wipe the filter clean. It’s raining heavily, but you can only really see the rainfall in the character’s costume’s darkened areas. Everywhere else looks misty. Why?
Capturing rain on camera can be a challenge.
Making Rain Visible
Take note of what the special effects coordinators say in this behind-the-scenes clip for the 2010 film Inception. They explore the detriments to filming in the rain, and note that most productions film rain scenes at night because it’s easier to illuminate properly.
Meanwhile, natural rain is too small and fast to capture correctly, especially on an ambient overcast or dark day.
If you notice in films with daytime rain sequences, it’s usually torrential rain instead of a light shower. This is because the rain rigs produce larger droplets faster to crowd the screen in the rain, and crews illuminate rain from the back so it’s more apparent.
Natural rain is so small and moves so fast that at 24fps it becomes an indistinguishable blur. If you do plan on filming natural rain, move the time of the shoot to night when house lights and street lights are on. Use them as a hard backlight to the rain to make the natural rainfall more apparent against darker areas of the image.
Use lights and reflections to make rain more noticeable. Image by Alexandru Chiriac.
Additionally, if you must film in the day and can’t afford to backlight the rain, frame your shot where you can visibly see the rain interacting with a surface—a car roof, puddles, and so on. While you won’t see the droplets, you will see their impact, which visually indicates to the audience that it’s raining. Of course, you can always employ the occasional slow-mo shot to grab a better representation of the rainfall.
Depict rain interacting with the world around you. Image by Viktor Gladkov.
Protecting Your Gear
So, you still want to film out in the weather, but you’re worried about your gear getting wet.
Most moderately expensive cameras are now weatherproof, but what is that? First, it’s not waterproof. A waterproof camera is a device that you can take below the surface of the water to a certain depth. Weatherproof does not equal waterproof. It can withstand rain but not the ocean.
And, that’s primarily where weatherproof stands. It’s generally fine for open rainfall, where the camera can still breathe. But, it’s important to note that there isn’t a universal method to define weather-sealing with most manufacturers. In general, it means there’s a rubber seal on ports, joints, and buttons to reduce exposure to moisture and dust.
Weatherproof and waterproof mean different things.
However, how beneficial is that for filmmaking when a typical weatherproof mirrorless camera is more for taking stills? There are a few setbacks to using a wet camera for video.
What Can Go Wrong
Touchscreens can be sporadic, which isn’t going to be useful if you use the touchscreen to note an area to follow focus or adjust the camera settings. The electronic viewfinder’s eye sensor can act erratically in heavy rainfall, so be sure to turn that off.
Think ahead to how rain might affect your production and gear.
Additionally, ports in most circumstances are going to be inaccessible. So, if you tend to use an external monitor or an external storage device or microphone, you probably aren’t going to be able to use these tools if it involves opening a weather-sealed port.
Drying Your Camera
In general, weather-sealed doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave your camera out in the pouring rain. Make sure you refer to the user guide and online reviews to see what your camera can withstand.
Even if your camera is weatherproof, avoid opening any ports or removing the lens when it’s wet. Even the slightest droplet can cause trouble. Most of the time, tilt screens are okay to use in rainfall, as the manufacturer should have sealed the inner electronics.
Also, if your camera is weatherproof and gets soaked during rainfall, avoid putting it down on a surface that allows the water to drip off the camera and form a pool around it. It’s best to dry your gear as soon as possible with a soft cloth.
So, what, in a low-budget sense, can we do for filmmaking?
First, look at acquiring a rain sleeve. They are plastic or fabric covers that help protect your camera from the rain.
You can acquire low-budget $5 versions that look like a somewhat modified sandwich bag. They cover your camera and allow you to adjust the controls with ease. However, because they’re inexpensive, I find they don’t last long as they are easy to tear, and once wet, they don’t dry quickly. I’d say that these are preferable for one-use instances.
Start small and simple. Image by Aleksandra Ignateva.
Instead, I’d suggest doubling your budget and pick up a fabric rain cover. These shed the rainfall like a waterproof coat, and this particular version has two sleeves that allow me to get in and adjust the settings. Instead of essentially being a sandwich bag that you push your camera through, it has a protruding section to cover the lens and lens hood adequately.
Spring for higher-quality sleeves if you plan to use rain gear more than once. Image by AlenaLitvin.
In my experience, if you’re taking video and not photos, get one of these even if your camera is weather sealed.
An important measure often overlooked is to also make sure you’re well protected. Ultimately, you’re going to have to make an additional purchase of waterproof gear. In most of my tutorials, I’m wearing a red North Face coat. While I’d like to say it’s because I’m representing the Shutterstock colors, it’s because I live in Wales where it wants to rain. Quite a lot.
The waterproof clothing market can be just as confusing as the lens market with all the variations available.
Remember to protect yourself in addition to your gear. Image by Jaromir Chalabala.
First, there’s a difference between a water-resistant jacket and a waterproof jacket. The first is coated with a repellent that, for the most part, repels water and keeps you dry from light showers. But, when the intensity of that rain increases, you’re going to get wet.
Waterproof, on the other hand, means there’s a wholly taped seam barrier between you and the rain, and you will not get wet in a heavy downfall. However, while some jackets may be waterproof, you may then see a more expensive variation that claims it’s also breathable. What does this mean? Well, if nothing is getting in, it’s also likely that nothing is getting out. As a result, the moment you exert yourself, all that body heat will cause you to sweat and still get soaked. A breathable waterproof jacket has a membrane lining, a material with lots of tiny holes in it to help with breathability. Because these holes are so small, no water can penetrate it, but it allows your jacket to breathe.
Make sure to check your trousers and boots for water resistance, as well.
While the rain can emphasize a scene’s drama, it’s also incredibly difficult to film in—on a professional level. At a low-budget level, it starts to become next to impossible to do unless you’re filming a rain montage adequately. As you have to remember, even if you follow the advice above and start filming a dialogue scene under a streetlight at night, there’s no guarantee that the rain’s intensity will stay consistent between takes.
Cover image by Kichigin.
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