The Wet Look: Why Rain Makes Great Pictures

©Michael Yamashita

Rain awakens the greens of the garden, enriching the varied hues of moss at Saiho-ji.

Back in the 90’s,  I did a story for National Geographic on Japanese gardens that became an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, as well as a book, In the Japanese Garden, and the beginning of a life-long love of gardens.  It also taught me a valuable lesson about rain and the wet look.  And that is, when it rains, grab the camera.  The details of Japanese gardens, with their elemental designs incorporating stone, plants, water and space, come to life in the rain.

©Michael Yamashita

A stone basin where guests may cleanse their hands and mouths is flanked by a carved lantern at the Yabunouchi Tea School in Kyoto.

©Michael Yamashita

To preserve the precision of the sand cone at Ginkaku-ji gardeners plane the surface regularly with a wooden mason's trowel.

©Michael Yamashita

The precise placement of pebbles and stones in a manmade streambed creates the illusion of the sound and velocity of rushing water st Shinyo-in in Kyoto.

©Michael Yamashita

A stand of swaying bamboo at Saiho-ji creates a natural fence. Rustling stalks add the dimension of sound to the garden's atmosphere.

©Michael Yamashita

Over the centuries, Saiho-ji at times fell into disrepair. Upon restoration, the moss remains as a predominate and identifying characteristic.

©Michael Yamashita

At Sanzen-in in Kyoto, fallen maple leaves on a blanket of sukigoke moss serve as reminders of the cycles of nature.

©Michael Yamashita

Moss, seen at Saiho-ji, adds an aura of age to the garden.

©Michael Yamashita

The care and tending of Saiho-ji involves constant vigilance. Here, a gardener gently sweeps maple leaves from the lush carpet of moss.

©Michael Yamashita

Tufted moss engulfs the gnarled roots of a spreading maple at Saiho-ji, where the optimum conditions of shade, humidity, and moist clay soil cause moss varieties to proliferate.

I photographed Japanese gardens in three seasons, rainy season (one month from early June to mid-July), fall and winter.  My most productive time was the rainy season – tsuyu, as it’s called in Japan. It’s like April weather here only warmer and it will rain without fail everyday.  In fact my book has 200 pictures, and almost all were taken in the rain or on cloudy periods during tsuyu.

Kyoto’s famous Moss Garden, Saiho-ji, is a particularly good example of how rain can awaken a garden. On any day, Saiho-ji is a sea of green.  But with rain, the many shades of its 100 varieties of moss become apparent as it saturates different types to different degrees.  Rain gives glistening green foliage direction in an otherwise flat lit landscape.  Rain beading on the leaves of lotus blossoms and water lilies polishes and animates them. Waters reflection on stone pathways  adds  subtle textures  and intensifies their color. And rain can make the still water of a pond dance.

Japanese gardeners, also aware of how water affects the natural textures, make it mandatory to wet down at the most famous tea gardens before the guests arrival.

My kit; gore tex,  a towel, and an umbrella.

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4 Responses to The Wet Look: Why Rain Makes Great Pictures

  1. Very nice photos from indeed beautiful gardens. However, we do not have much rain in central Canada. We have lots of snow instead which hides everything instead of adding something to them. I think I am just complaining because I have lots of work and I cannot find time to do lots of photography. Anyway, I enjoyed watching your photos.

  2. Geir Ole says:

    Lovely pictures! Yes, the rain is a great time to go hunting for pictures, garden or not. The rain are not only essential for life, but add life to everything you bring into your picture, people, plants, animals and so on. The umbrella is a good thing 🙂

  3. anu says:

    great pictures:)

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