This time last year Spyros Papaspyropoulos wrote a set of tips and suggestions for summer street photography projects for all you street photographers to have a go at if you’re lucky enough to be able to get away for your summer holidays. If you’re familiar with that list, you may remember Spyros made lots of suggestions for street photography on the beach, and even in the sea! Now that’s all well and good, as Spyros lives in Greece, and he knows his summer will have the characteristics of an actual summer – i.e., sunny! But not everyone can count on the summer weather, and being British I understand that as well as anyone! As I write this, the UK set to be battered by gale force winds and rain sweeping in from the Atlantic, and my hometown is enduring rain and temperatures of around 15 degrees (60F). So in a gesture of solidarity to those who live in countries with summers that aren’t much to write home about, I thought I’d offer some street photography tips, suggestions, and project ideas for rainy and cloudy weather. Those of you reading this in more extreme weather conditions in the middle of an icy winter should also check out Andrew Sweigart’s guide to winter weather street photography to learn how best to practice street photography in the most adverse of weather conditions. If you’re well prepared there’s no reason to let a day’s bad weather ruin your planned street hunt! So read on for more….
If it’s raining and you’re lucky enough to have a weather sealed camera and lens you won’t need to worry as much, but you should still exercise some caution and follow some of these tips for good practice, especially if it’s really raining cats and dogs!
Carry an umbrella
If you choose and small and light umbrella you can carry this is one hand and operate your camera with your other hand. It’s best to use a prime lens if you’re carrying an umbrella, as you won’t have a spare hand to operate your lens’ zoom ring. If you normally focus manually, you should also employ the zone focusing technique to prefocus your camera so you only have to worry about clicking the shutter.
An umbrella is also really useful to keep yourself dry in the rain. Waterproof jackets are good, but the rain will often run off them and onto your legs, and if you’re wearing something like jeans this can get really cold and uncomfortable after several hours of walking.
Umbrellas also have an extra hidden benefit which makes them really useful for street photographers. I’ve actually found that I feel much braver shooting street photos this way as I’m more hidden and ‘protected’ by the umbrella. It’s quite strange, but I feel much less conspicuous raising a camera to my eye when I’ve already got an umbrella above my head!
Use a plastic bag
If it’s really windy, you may find an umbrella isn’t enough to protect your camera. If this is the case, you can employ a nice trick to keep your camera dry by covering it with a plastic bag and carry on shooting in all sorts of torrid weather conditions. Place the camera in the bag with the opening at the back of the camera where your viewfinder or LCD is, and tie the bag, leaving just your viewfinder or LCD slightly exposed. Tear a small hole in the bag to accommodate just the end element of your lens and then use a lens hood or elastic band to secure the plastic bag around the lens. You might get some strange looks, but it will help to keep your camera protected from the elements.
Instead of a plastic bag, you can use a shower cap to protect your camera like our street hunter Marc Barkowski did! Remember neither of these methods are foolproof though, so If you want to fully protect your camera from the elements, you should invest in a waterproof case or housing.
Wear good shoes
This advice applies to street photography in general, as a good pair of comfortable shoes makes a huge difference when you’re on your feet and walking for hours at a time. If the weather isn’t great, then good shoes become even more important, especially if they’re fairly water resistant. I’ve spent many miserable hours traipsing through the streets with wet feet because my shoes let in water from puddles, so heed my warning and wear shoes that are tough. Canvas topped shoes like Converse, or trainers with splitting soles are a big no-no in the rain!
Rain has a fantastic effect on urban streets, especially at night. Glistening pavements, cobbles, and road surfaces reflecting street lamps, shop windows, car headlights or even people’s silhouettes are gloriously evocative and really carry with them the pulse of the city.
Not only do puddles provide you with a useful surface to use for reflections, but they’re also a good spot to focus your attention on as a focal point of interest. You can try your hand at recreating Henri-Cartier Bresson’s iconic ‘decisive moment’ shot if you manage to capture a person leaping over a puddle, and catch some great ‘frozen in time’ moments. For an element of dynamism, you can look for deep puddles that passing cars splash over the pavement, and perhaps, if you feel so inclined, catch some poor unsuspecting person being soaked.
Stay Inside and Look Out
If you adopt this approach you have the benefit of keeping yourself and your camera warm and dry while you take photos of people passing by outside. By adopting this position you get a great outlook of a voyeuristic outsider’s perspective in your street photos, and you can get a totally unadulterated view of people’s reaction to the weather, while you yourself stay insulated from it and can concentrate purely on your photos, not battling the elements.
Hopefully you’re carrying one yourself anyway (see above), but people under umbrellas can make for some really interesting street photos. Umbrellas can add an extra element of mystery to photos as people move under them in their own little shadowy private worlds.
Umbrellas also provide a reflective surface to bounce your flash off if you’re using off camera flash, and this can produce some great lighting effects. Alternatively, you can try to capture the tops of a sea of umbrellas for a more surreal abstract street photo.
Raindrops on glass
These shots may seem a bit cliche, but you can get some really nice street photos this way if you take a creative approach. Raindrops on glass will disrupt the opacity of the glass and obscure and warp people’s features, which can add a great element of mystery to your photos.
Awnings and porches can prove very useful for street photography in inclement weather. On a basic level, they provide shelter from the elements, and a safe haven to use as a base to take photos from one specific spot.
If you train your camera on awnings and porches themselves you can get some great candid street photos of people huddled under them as they protect themselves from the elements. You might even be able to use a wall of water cascading off a roof to add extra layers to your photo.
You can use your flash to freeze and illuminate raindrops as they fall in front of people, which is a very surreal and dramatic effect in street photography. On a dark, overcast and rainy day you can use the extra light from your flash to illuminate your shots whilst using a narrow aperture to give a broad depth of field which will keep both the raindrops and your subject in focus. The flash power will probably even be sufficient to illuminate raindrops and your subject in the depth of night which can make for some really weird photos.
People themselves are often the best projects and subjects during rain and bad weather. Personal attitudes and behaviour are inherently linked to the prevailing weather conditions, so people’s faces often take on expressions of glum and steely determination when the weather is really bad. This can make faces much more emotive and can add much more to the feel of a street photo than a whole host of other elements.
I’ve tried to give a very broad overview of tips and project ideas for street photography during rainy and bad weather, which hopefully you’ll be able to implement in your own photos. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to let unpredictable weather ruin your street photography plans – in fact it’s quite the opposite. With a little preparation, and using the weather to your advantage, you can make some really memorable and dramatic street photos.