Playing In The Rain

Bad weather, good photos
This Article Features Photo Zoom

On the Huon River in Tasmania, Bill Hatcher didn’t let a little rain get in the way of any photo opportunity.

I get a kick out of shooting in the worst kinds of weather—rain, snow, sandstorms—that sort of thing. More often than not, I don’t get a decent photo, and my camera ends up soaked or worse, but even so, there’s a kind of perverse satisfaction in just being out there in the worst of it to watch what happens. For me, the best part of witnessing a storm, especially a fast-moving storm, is the changing light. I enjoy the moments when the storm is clearing and the sun begins peeking out from under the clouds; odds are pretty high that I’m in for a great show.

When I was in Tasmania for the five-day Franklin River packraft trip this year, our three-man packraft expedition decided we should do a practice run. We wanted an overnight trip down a challenging river with Class III to IV rapids. It was decided our practice trip was to be a two-day paddle down the Anne River to the Huon River. The purpose of the trip was to ease some “Franklin jitters,” as well as to check out the new boats and give us a chance to travel and work together before the very committing Franklin trip. I was getting pretty amped for the photography on the Franklin descent and, to be honest, wasn’t really expecting spectacular images on this warm-up creek. Once we put on, the Anne’s very low flow further decreased my hopes for good action photography. The first day was a 10-hour, boat-dragging ordeal—a rocky anti-climax to the Class III to IV whitewater we were expecting. It rained throughout our first night, but the flows remained low, and during the second morning, we spent more hours hauling our boats over rocks under a gray, overcast sky. The photography was as uninspiring as the paddling, but I didn’t give up hope because, in Tassie, the weather changes fast.

On the second day, after more hours of carrying and pulling our boats down the Anne, we eventually joined the much bigger Huon River. By midafternoon, the river conditions improved with higher flow and current—the catchment had finally responded to the previous night’s rain. I knew being in this larger river system could make for weather-related photos, since storms often track up and down big-river basins, whereas in smaller drainages like the Anne, the weather gets more socked in. My strategy paddling down the Huon was to keep myself positioned between my two packrafting mates. This placement allowed me to shoot a boat looking both downstream as well as upstream. Toward evening, rounding yet another of many river bends, the sun at last broke through the clouds. This occurred at the same moment that another rain squall moved upriver toward us. As luck would have it, I had the sun to my back, and I knew this to be the perfect situation to create a rainbow downstream, so I paddled hard to close the gap with the front boat. The rainbow materialized over the river the instant the sun’s rays touched the falling rain.

To compose the rainbow photo, I paddled to a position above and right of the downstream boat as the colors of the rainbow intensified. Once I found the sweet spot for the photo, I stopped paddling, grabbed my camera from my Pelican case and shot photos until the rainbow faded.

The rainstorm moved over me, continuing its upstream track. It was raining pretty hard by now, so I wiped my camera and lens with a chamois and returned it, but didn’t fasten the Pelican case on my lap. Upstream I watched the sun highlight the falling raindrops perfectly against the dark forest, and this light effect inspired my next series of photos.

In this steady rain, I waited a long minute before the second boat appeared into view. I quickly brought my camera out of the Pelican case, and with my hand shading the lens from the sun and rain, I was able to compose the sun-illuminated upstream boat in one corner and the river shore in the opposite corner, and fill the rest of the photo with the blurred falling raindrops. Focusing and metering manually, I got off a few shots, and then the moment was over and my camera was soaked.

A few hours later, we reached the takeout under a starry sky. Originally, we estimated that we would spend seven or eight hours paddling in boats for the two-day trip. But because of the low water, we spent nearly 24 hours paddling and hiking our boats down the river. My best photos of the trip weren’t in whitewater, but were made during a three-minute window in the final hour of light near the end of the trip. The weather had succeeded in salvaging yet another Tasmanian photo adventure.

You can visit Bill Hatcher‘s website at

Bill Hatcher is a documentary photographer who shoots stories for National Geographic, Smithsonian and many other publications. He believes the best adventure photos are made when you’re an active participant in the story you’re shooting. Bill has been chasing stories about adventure sports,science and conservation around the world for nearly 30 years. His favorite mode of transport is by foot, bike, rope, packraft or skis.