This first week of the new year 2016, we in San Diego County are getting the first of what may be a memorable El Niño year: storms are stacked up off the coast just waiting to come in, just like airliners on approach to LAX. And they’re not just ordinary storms, either: some of them are BIG, forecast to deliver an inch or more of rain. And there’s barely a pause between them – maybe a few hours, but certainly not days.

It’s been a long time since San Diego has had a whole week of rain. This year may break our four-year stretch of drought.

Oh, this is a photo post, not a rain blog. How could I photograph the rain in a different way than the usual flooded streets and soggy people? (And hopefully without getting too wet either!) I loved the torrents of rain that came off my roof during the cloudbursts. How to photograph them?

During an earlier summer rain, I’d photographed rain falling onto a plate:


I rather liked the appearance of the raindrops in midair, especially when viewed up close:


But this was a big deluge, and how could I portray that aspect? It took some experimentation …

To create more splashes, I decided I needed a deeper container. In fact, I used two: a wine glass inside a glass pie plate. The pie plate was almost necessary because the wine glass was too small a target: the water stream coming off my roof didn’t always fall in the same stationary place because the flow shifted depending upon the volume of water. Besides, the wind blew it around. With the pie plate, even if the stream missed the wine glass, it had a better chance of hitting the plate and causing splashes there.

I set up the wine glass and pie plate on the concrete entryway to my front door, and my camera was on a tripod just inside the front door. Since the lens was just a few inches above the floor, it took me a few seconds to get down, lie on my stomach, and then to frame and focus the shot. If the water stream shifted, then I’d have to get up, move the wine glass and pie plate to the stream’s new landing spot, dry my hands off, get back to the camera, and frame and focus again. By which time the stream may have shifted positions again.

Of course, I could have just left the wine glass in one position and hoped that the conditions would revert so that it was on target again. But I really wanted to capture the stream when it was most intense, and that didn’t happen often, nor was it predictable. Furthermore, the cloudbursts often coincided with windy conditions (funny how that happens). The wind pushed the stream around quite a bit, so it was a moving target. Sometimes, it was frustrating …

To make a long story short(er), it took many tries to get the shot below. I still don’t think I captured the peak flow, but at least this photo certainly shows that there’s a lot of dynamic water coming down!


I’m surprised how the photo looks so different than how the scene looked visually. By eye, the stream of water coming down is obvious: it’ like water pouring out of a hose or faucet. But in the photo, the down-coming stream is not so evident, but its splashes certainly are. Visually, you also see a lot of splashes, but they don’t look like so many fine droplets – they’re more like big blobs of water in constant motion.

Let’s take a closer look:


The drops are like pieces of broken glass (or diamonds) thanks to the freeze action of flash photography.

Photo notes, for geeks: Canon 6D, 135/2, ISO 200, 1/4s, f/20, 2x 580EX-II flashes @ 1/16 and 1/32 power.