Despite getting wet, cold, and uncomfortable, shooting in the rain can be fun and challenging. Depending on the time of the day and visibility of the sun, the soft lighting can compliment your shots by reducing the usual shadows and highlights problems caused by daytime natural lighting.
I always look forward and overcome with excitement to shooting in the rain after knowing from the weather forecast that rain is coming over the weekend. Besides who doesn’t welcome some pouring with severe draught we have been experiencing over the last five years in the bay area.
My favorite spot for shooting raptors in the rain is Coyote Hills Regional Park, particularly on the dry dead tree branches along the hillside past the Quarry staging area. In fact I had a chance to shoot the Merlin in the rain right at the same spot last year along with two other photographers who also braved themselves getting soaked in the rain.
I was hoping to get the same Merlin showing up again this year so that I will have the opportunity to get different poses and try out different shutter speed settings just to compare the differences. To my surprise, a bigger raptor was already perching on what I called the ‘magic perch’ when I got there.
This time it was a young red-tailed hawk who seemed a bit confused and lost in the rain. Perhaps, it was the first rain experience for him. I hurriedly set-up my gear behind the bushes so that he wasn’t notice my presence that might spook him. I should have had my gear set up while I was in the car earlier as it was easier than setting up in the rain. I was out of breaths from hiking up the hill with all the gears and the rain coat further slowed me down.
I started shooting as I inched closer to the hawk which did not seem to mind my presence. This is usually the case for any juvenile birds as they were still in the process of learning about their threats. The hawk was restless moving and hopping around obviously uneasy with the pouring rain.
Anyway, it wasn’t easy to get the precise shutter speed settings to capture a desired rain streaks. If you’re shooting against a brighter background at below 1/100s you can hardly see the rain especially when it was pouring heavily.
The streaks blended in and disappeared with the brightness since you have to increase the exposure compensation in order to expose the dark hawk. At the same time you get motion blurred shots with so much movements from the hawk.
I was fortunate enough that I managed to experiment multiple settings to compare the result with such a co-operative model.
After posing for over an hour for me, the hawk decided to seek a shelter on the dead pine tree nearby. Unfortunately this dead pine tree with no leaves couldn’t provide any shelter for him from the rain. It was too bad that he was now perching against a bright sky as the background but there were so many little sticks around him that I didn’t bother to take anymore shots. Furthermore I was already soaking wet sitting down on the ground and did not notice that my raid coat was not properly covering me as I was too busy with shooting.
Feeling cold and uncomfortable, I left the hawk alone in the rain and went home to change my clothes and grab some quick bite before heading back with the hope for more shots. Not only The hawk was no where in sight but the big branch where I last saw him was on the ground. The wind must have gotten stronger after I left and broke the branch. That must have spooked and scared the hawk away that it flew somewhere far away.