LTP 127: Love April Showers

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In this solo show Bart starts by sharing his practical advice for staying comfortable and keeping your gear safe in the kind of chaotic weather that typifies April in Europe, before trying to inspire everyone to get out there to capitalise on the photographic opportunities the weather brings.

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Show Notes (by Bart)

The temptation is to only shoot when the weather is clement, and to stay indoors when it’s unpleasant, or even unpredictable.

Here in Europe we’re deep into a time of year when the weather is so notoriously chaotic that we’re described by a cliché — ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’. Basically, in April the sun regains some power, and the air is still wet, so we often get days with sunny spells punctuated by very heavy, often even thundery, very localised showers. Those kinds of small-scale extremes make for a lot of drama in the sky, and lots of great photographic opportunities, assuming that is, you’re prepared to deal with the inclement interludes!

Depending on where you are in the world, dramatic weather may happen at different times, but I expect a lot of my thoughts and advice will still be useful.

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to … get Cranky

The very variability that opens up the opportunities that inspired this episode makes preparation essential. Getting wet is not just possible, it’s probable, and so are big swings in temperature, so you need to prepare both yourself and your gear to avoid discomfort and damage.

When it comes to keeping yourself comfortable, it helps to understand the most common meteorological cause of all that drama in the sky. It’s all about convection cells. There will be beautiful warm regions where air warmed by the sun is rising. Birds and hand glider pilots love these, and will circle in the up-draft for some free lift! But, between those rising cells there will be falling cells, and those are where you get wet and cold!

The descending cells are not capped with clear skies, but with angry looking dark grey clouds. Inside them cold wet air is falling fast, so you get very wet from heavy rain with big drops, and if the cell reaches high enough into the atmosphere, you’ll get pelted with big drops of ice, i.e heavy hail. The cell is pulling air from high up down fast, so the wind won’t just pick up as the rain approaches, it will feel noticeably cold.

When the column of descending air hits the ground it moves out in all directions, so no matter what way the clouds are being pushed about by high-altitude winds, on the ground, close to the rain, the wind always comes from the direction of the rain. This leads to a very useful tip:

If you notice the wind shift direction while it becomes noticeably colder, you’re probably about to get very wet very quickly!

So, what do you need to be prepared for?

  1. Sun
  2. Rain
  3. Big swings in temperature
  4. Cutting wind
Forget about Umbrellas

April showers make their own wind, so even when the average wind speed is low, the wind will pick up and become gusty just when you need your umbrella. Wind and umbrellas don’t mix, so forget about umbrellas!

Keep your Core Dry

So, you can’t depend on umbrellas to stay dry, what can you depend on? You absolutely need a breathable windproof waterproof jacket to keep your core dry, and to keep the icy gusty wind off your chest!

Spend the extra money for truly breathable jackets from experienced out door brands — if it’s not breathable you’ll get wet from the inside out instead of the outside in so you’ll get wet whether it rains or not!

Cold wind and sweaty cloths are a great recipe for feeling miserable and getting sick!

The Stuff that has Earned my Recommendation

When it comes to breathable waterproof clothing of all kinds, nothing I’ve owned holds a candle to the genuine Gore-Tex products from Gore themselves (…).

In terms of traditional hiking shoes and boots my favourite brand by far is Merrell (…), they make high quality breathable waterproof boots with real Gore-Tex that last, and they’re good value to boot!

When full on hiking shoes and boots are overkill I love wearing waterproof trainers. I’ve had a lot of very poor experiences with big name brands, but after a lot of crankiness, I’ve found that the Terrex range from Adidas have worked really well for me — they look like pretty ordinary trainers, but with real Gore-Tex they’re both waterproof and breathable, and they’re comfy too! I’ve also had some really good experiences with waterproof trainers from Under Armour. The Under Armour waterproof trainers tend to be lighter than the Terrex ones, so I prefer them in summer.

Protect your Stuff

Obviously, if you’re shooting with a DSLR you’ll need to be sure your camera bag is waterproof, but even if you shoot with nothing more than your totally waterproof modern phone, you still need a waterproof backpack — where else do you keep your layers safe and dry when you’re not using them?

If you want to shoot a DSLR in the rain to include rain drops in your photos, it’s worth knowing you can buy little rain coats for your camera with a big hole in the back for your hands and to see the screen, and an elasticated hole in the front to fit snug around the front of your lens. If you use a big enough flare protector and don’t point too far up or down you can actually shoot in the rain safely.

The photographic Opportunities

So, what makes all that preparation worth it?

Storm Light

The most obvious opportunity from mixed weather with sun and heavy showers is so-called ‘storm light’ — this is what happens when you and your foreground are being lit by the sun, but the sky in front of you is really dark and dramatic. The foreground sun will add huge contrast with the dark clouds, so the darkness of the clouds feels magnified, and you get an amazing sense of drama.

Distant Downpours

When you get yourself onto a height where you have a sweeping panoramic view, you might catch one of those heavy showers in action in the distance. Sometimes these downpours are so heavy they look like clouds pouring themselves onto the landscape below.


When you are at the edge of the rain while the sun is low enough in the sky so the sun is shining on you while shining through(ish) raindrops in front of you, you should see a rainbow. I dedicated the entire previous episode to rainbows, so I’ll just remind you to keep an eye out for the main features:

  1. The primary bow, and the fact that it’s darker around the outside and brighter inside
  2. Some or all of a secondary bow, including the fact that the colours are reversed
  3. Supernumerary arcs on the inside of the primary bow
Rain as a Subject

Finally, while it’s raining, if your camera is protected, why not use raindrops splashing in water or on a hard surface as a foreground for your shots, or maybe even as the main subject.

The lighter the rain, the closer you need to get to see the rain in the photos, but when the rain is heavy enough I find I can often get away with crouching under a bridge next to some water and zooming in and shooting along the water to get the raindrops a few meters in front to be visible enough to add foreground interest to shots.

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