Shooting in the Rain

 Photographs and Article by  William Jordan IV

The alarm sounded at 5 am that Sunday morning. As I got up, I could hear the wind driving the rain against the motel room window. I opened the door to see the entire parking lot alive with dancing water drops. I thought to myself –– This is perfect!

I am a sunshine person. On bright, cloudless days I am so much more motivated than during the dreary, overcast ones.  However, I am a fine art landscape photographer and very little of note is captured between 9 am and 5 pm beneath a clear, blue sky. The light at dawn and at dusk is my friend unless I am fortunate enough to be shooting through the long hours of a gray, rainy day.

Solitary Boulder, Great Smoky Mountains, by William Jordan IV. Nikon D2Xs, Nikkor 28-70mm F2.8 lens, focal length 42mm, f/11 at 1/15 second, matrix metering mode, ISO equivalent 100.
At 5:45, my phone rang. The group I was leading for this current Great Smoky Mountains photo workshop wondered whether they could, due to the pounding rain,  sleep in. With enthusiasm, I rousted them out of bed, for I knew what we would meet in the Tremont area along the Middle Prong of the Little River.

As I came through the park the previous day, I had not seen that much flowing water in the Smokies, ever. The previous October I had arrived to capture some fall foliage only to discover the streams totally dry and the rivers a series of mere puddles.

My excitement burst through the phone; they seemed unimpressed, but at 6:30 AM we met in the parking lot and begrudgingly headed for the park. As we turned southeast off Laurel Creek Road into the Tremont area, the water to our left was moving at a speed I had yet to witness ever in this park.

I pulled off at a turnoff just a few hundred yards down the road and we were all transfixed by the spectacle before us. The rain had momentarily subsided to a fine mist. The detail and color laid out before us was rich, full, and evenly lit.

The rain, by soaking the exposed boulders, enhanced their wonderful texture. There is nothing more degrading to an otherwise picturesque river scene than dry, dull rocks. I even carry a collapsible, plastic bucket for those times I need to get into the water and help Mother Nature further expose her beauty.

We spent an hour shooting that small area of this raging river; we could have spent three. Actually, months could be spent capturing the multiple facets of this branch of the Little River along the six-mile Tremont road.

The dynamic range of a brightly lit mountain river is almost impossible to capture even with multiple exposures and the latest HDR software. The white caps will blow out and too much of the detail of the running water will be lost. However, with the thick, gray overcast and light, misty rain, both the highlights and the shadows were well within our grasp.

With each shot, the detail in the water magnified as our cameras stopped the river long enough to capture the myriad elements rushing past us at great neck speed.

Twenty, 50, 200, 500 millimeters; whatever our field of view, the water, with its dips and curves, its texture and color, remained our principle focus. I suggested beginning at the widest angle possible to capture the entire scene, but then to continually move in, narrow the field of view, and focus on the finer details to which you are most attracted.

Narrowing down and focusing in is often a foreign exercise to many of us, for we live much of our lives attentive to as much as possible, rarely being present to the current moment. We are either regretting our past or planning our future, and when we are present to the now, we are present to all the now, everything that confronts us.

We live our lives through a wide angle lens continually hopping from one focus to another, rarely taking the time to zoom in on a particular facet, one small moment, and experience the wonder of the marvelous detail we so often miss.

A significant challenge to us, as photographers, is to narrow down, to eliminate, to focus in on the most important element of a particular subject whether is comprises multiple miles of an engaging landscape or the petit filament of a flower.

Wide view, Little River, Great Smoky Mountains, by William Jordan IV. Nikon D2Xs, Nikkor 28-70mm F2.8 lens, focal length 42mm, f/11 at 1/30 second, matrix metering mode, ISO equivalent 100.
Unlike painters, who begin with a blank canvas and add to create their art, photographers begin with a canvas full of all that stands before them, and have to attempt to eliminate all that does not compliment their principle focus.

Detail captures interest; however, when an image contains too much detail, the central focus becomes lost and interest wanes.

Practicing the art of photography has helped me slow down and focus in on the small, wonderful details populating my every minute.

A wide view of the raging Little River holds merit, but even more engaging are the tiny details created as this solitary boulder  fashions unique, wispy patterns in the swift, running water.

A view looking across this fuming torrent reveals a water-soaked log  bathed in blue as the mist momentarily parts allowing a patch of clear sky to intensify this scene from above.

If we allow ourselves even occasionally to narrow down, to eliminate, to focus in on the details contained in each of our moments, we might also find our scenes intensified from above.

William’s web site:


Nature Photographer Magazine
PO Box 220
Lubec, ME 04652
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