When the rain starts falling, our natural inclination is to stay indoors where it’s toasty and warm. But rain photography is a wonderful subject to include in your street photography. And it provides fantastic opportunities to work with different light conditions and reflections.
Next time you see dark clouds looming above, embrace the idea of rainy day photography and look for the beauty it creates. Check out these rainy street photography tips for your next downpour.
1. Keep Dry While Taking Rain Photography
Water can be beautifully photogenic. Unfortunately it can also damage your camera gear. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about protecting your camera and lenses from the rain. Waterproofing, however, is an important part of photographing outside.
Invest in a waterproof camera case and camera bag. If you’re on a tight budget, use a plastic bag (fasten it to the lens hood with a rubber band) or shower cap around the camera and cut a hole at the lens. A lens hood will also help keep water off your lens.
While you’re protecting the camera, don’t forget to keep yourself dry too. Take an umbrella, and wear shoes that keep your feet dry and a comfortable hooded rain coat.
2. Rainy Day Street Shelter
To keep your gear (and yourself) dry, look for places to shelter while you photograph. I’ve taken many out-of-focus rainy day photos because I’ve been distracted by water on the camera or my glasses. Wet socks is another distraction that affects my photographs!
Rain photography from under shelter will still capture the wet weather vibe. But you’ll be more relaxed and can take time to consider composition and settings. Cars, cafes, and doorways are good places to photograph from.
Use these sheltered opportunities to change lenses, review photos on your screen, and check the lens for water drops.
Think about how you can incorporate the shelter in the frame, and what it adds to your story.
3. Look to the Ground
Although the clouds might be dark and dramatic above, there is loads of action happening on the ground on a rainy day. Turn the camera downward to focus on footpaths, steps, and roads (this is also a sneaky way to avoid rain drops on your lens).
The ground is where the sudden splashes and sprays of water can be captured with a fast shutter speed. It’s also where you’ll see shiny streets reflecting traffic lights, signs, and shop window mannequins.
Bundled-up children, soggy dogs, and brightly coloured boots all happen at ground level. With an umbrella above, set up your camera on your tripod, and use your street photography intuition to guide your finger on the shutter release!
4. Know Your Vantage Points
One of my favourite parts of street photography is walking through the city on a fine evening, soaking up the atmosphere, and exploring new spaces. In wet weather however, my priorities change!
It’s a good idea to have a few tried and tested rainy day photography locations up your sleeve that you can get to quickly – particularly if the rain isn’t going to last. Think of places that are accessible and safe, with nearby shelter (and a cafe).
Find out which artificial and natural light sources feature in these locations. Check if you’re going to be affected by traffic or strong winds.
You might not consider photographing from these sites in sunshine. But they could provide the perfect light conditions, reflections, and activity for photography in the rain.
5. Forecasting for Wet Streets
As photographers, we’re used to constantly checking apps for the weather, sun direction, sunrise and sunset times. Rain forecasting adds a whole new layer of research into the mix! Learn about the weather fronts and the type of rain scheduled in your area.
In my Southern Hemisphere environment, a southerly rain forecast indicates low light, downpours, and strong cold wind. But a nor’westerly means eerie golden light and warm sporadic rain.
These different types of rain affect the settings I use, the gear I take, and how I compose my photographs.
You’ll be familiar with the weather patterns in your own town or city. And if you’re in a new environment, take the time to talk with locals to find out what to expect from different rain forecasts.
6. Reflections in Rain Photography
If you’re feeling nervous about taking the camera out in wet weather, wait until the rain stops. Then go and explore some puddles. Puddles create fantastic reflections of street activity and architecture.
And without the rain falling around you, you’ll be able to calmly compose the frame and experiment with your settings. Look for water pooling on tables and benches.
Try using a prime or zoom lens to get close to the puddle or use a fast shutter speed to capture a foot splashing into the puddle. With a macro lens, you can explore a miniature scene in a droplet of water.
I usually come away from these photo shoots with wet, muddy jeans, but great clear shots!
Regan Gentry’s ‘Woods from the Trees’ sculpture reflected after the rain. Rain photography
7. Rainy Day Expressions
Rainy days evoke a wide range of emotions in people. Rain can make us feel frustrated, excited, anxious, peaceful, or happy. Capturing these facial expressions on a rainy street photography shoot can be magical and provide context for your photograph.
If you feel shy photographing people’s faces, consider people’s body language, and what it’s telling you about how they’re feeling. Photograph hunched shoulders, legs running or skipping, or heads tilted up towards the sky.
Some of the best expressions can be photographed when the rainy weather has just started or stopped – especially if it’s caught people by surprise. For these moments, I hold my camera and use a fast shutter speed to capture candid emotion in people’s faces.
8. Props for Rainy Street Photography
There are days when I prefer to completely avoid people in my street photography and just focus on inanimate objects. Incorporate some props in your frame that narrate your story. Look for a broken umbrella in a rubbish bin, rain boots outside a door, or a wet newspaper forgotten on a park bench.
The great advantage of this technique means that you can suggest the human elements that people relate to, but you don’t have to wait for the right person to walk into the frame (or out of the frame) at exactly the right time.
This rainy street photography idea provides opportunities to practice and experiment with settings and composition, particularly if you feel nervous photographing people. Try using different shots and angles to frame the same scene differently.
A close-up shot of a broken umbrella will have an interesting raindrop detail as the main visual interest. A long shot of a broken umbrella outside a building will look desolate and gloomy.
Think about the story you want to tell and the emotions you want to evoke in the viewer.
9. Wet Weather Light Levels
When I first started photographing rainy street scenes, I struggled to get my settings right and ended up with quite grey and dull images. Using a tripod made a big difference. I like to decrease the shutter speed and maintain an aperture of between f/5.6 and f/8 to show the movement of people passing by.
I’m a stickler for a low ISO, so slowing the shutter speed down was necessary for light levels. This is where you can make your own personal technical decisions for the creative effect you’re after.
If you want very sharp images of a key subject, increase the shutter speed and reduce the depth of field. If you’re OK with a grainy effect in your rainy day photos, you can use a fast shutter speed, narrow aperture, and a high ISO.
Making these decisions in the middle of a downpour can be tricky, but practice and good wet weather gear are the keys!
10. Rainy Night Time Magic
Night time provides unique lighting opportunities for creative rainy days street photography. Rain that is back lit by street lights or car headlights looks evocative and mysterious. Raindrops on glass sparkle in artificial light, and colours are vibrant against a dark inky night sky.
With fewer people around, it’s easier to set up your shot and more room for your umbrella and tripod too. Slow your shutter speed down very low (the tripod and shutter release cable are essential). Or you might like to experiment with a flash that will reflect off falling raindrops.
I’ve always loved the varying moods of rain. It can be soft and quiet, fresh and cleansing, or dramatically dangerous.
Every rainy day is different, so you have the chance to create an image and story that is truly unique. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, store your umbrella and boots by the door, and you’re ready to go!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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