Rainy-day street photography can be a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to produce gorgeous photos. When the rain starts to fall, locations – particularly urban areas – become moody and atmospheric. The resulting photos are often powerful and unique.
When doing street photography in the rain, however, you’ve got to do more than stay dry and snap away with your camera. Making the most of the falling rain and the wet surfaces has its challenges, and if you can head out your door with various techniques in mind, you’re more likely to return with some great photos.
In this article, I share my best tips for street shots in bad weather, and I also include plenty of rainy street photo examples. I hope I can inspire and challenge you to make the most of your camera, even when the weather is poor!
1. Plan your photography session
A little careful planning before going out to photograph in the rain will make for a much better experience.
So when you’re thinking about heading out into the wet weather, consider where you might go to take photos and the type of images you would most like to capture. If you know a location well, you should have some ideas about where you can position yourself to avoid getting soaked. Try to pick areas where there’s some shelter, a decent amount of foot traffic, and reasonably good lighting.
Before leaving, attach your favorite street photography lens to your camera, then avoid changing lenses when you’re out. Even if the rain isn’t pouring down, there’s more moisture in the air on rainy days, and it’s best to avoid letting this reach your camera sensor. If you do need to change lenses, do it somewhere dry and be quick about it. The longer your camera sensor remains exposed to the outside world, the more it’ll be affected by moisture.
Note: While I discuss lighting in a later section, it’s important that you pick a time to go based on the illumination. On heavy rain days when the sky is very overcast, the light can be flat and dull, which isn’t ideal if your goal is to capture more dramatic images. (That said, you can create gorgeous shots using flat and dull light – the key is to find a subject that fits the mood.)
2. Keep yourself and your gear dry and safe
If you don’t keep your camera gear dry, your photography session may be cut short. You might even be in for some costly camera repairs.
Unfortunately, water and cameras simply don’t mix well. I’d recommend erring on the side of caution, even if you own a weather-sealed camera. A small amount of water can adversely affect electronics, so it pays to keep your equipment as dry as possible. You can try staying in sheltered areas while you shoot, or you can protect your camera using a rain cover (or both). It all depends on your comfort level!
Additionally, staying dry will make for a more comfortable session, and while this may seem trivial, you won’t want to stay out for long if you’re cold and wet.
Wear good shoes. If your feet are wet, you’ll soon want to head back home. Depending on the locations you choose and the way you like to photograph, I’d also recommend wearing a raincoat or carrying an umbrella. (With a raincoat, your hands will be free to work your camera, though it won’t protect your camera the way an umbrella will.) When I’m taking street photos in the rain, I often wear a raincoat and take an umbrella with me.
3. Take your tripod
I know it’s not always convenient or practical to use a tripod for street photography. But when it’s raining, the light will be reduced, and a tripod can help you capture sharp images using a slow shutter speed.
With your camera on a tripod, you can hold an umbrella in one hand, then have your other hand free to make settings adjustments to your camera. Working with a tripod will slow you down, but it can also force you to shoot more deliberately and therefore capture better images.
Beware of slippery surfaces when setting up your tripod. Make sure that your tripod legs are steady and won’t slip easily; otherwise, you risk camera shake (or worse).
4. Think about lighting
As I mentioned above, it’s best to consider the light before heading out to shoot. If you’re after drama, try to photograph on days that combine rain and sun, and if you’re after flat, neutral images, heavily overcast skies are best. Finally, if you’re not sure what you want, just aim for good lighting and reasonable contrast.
When the rain is falling, try to position yourself so that the main light is coming from behind your subject because backlit rain looks fabulous when it’s exposed well.
One piece of advice: If you’re looking to capture images with a bit of pop but the light is rather dull, consider using a flash to help illuminate your subject. This can add depth and dynamics to your street shots, and for some extra pizzazz, adjust your flash output so it overexposes your subject (it can make for a great effect when rain is falling in the background).
5. Seek out reflections
On rainy days, you can find reflections everywhere you look. Windows, puddles, shiny objects, and car windshields are some of the more common places you can find great reflections – so as you walk with your camera, keep an eye out for reflective surfaces, then make a real effort to incorporate them into your photos. Reflections can look amazing in street photography, especially as foreground interest in wide-angle compositions.
When you’re photographing reflections, be precise with your focusing. If you lock focus on a reflective surface, the reflection itself might not turn out sharp. The farther the reflected subject is from the reflective surface, the more challenging it will be to keep them both sharp, so choose carefully! Don’t be afraid to switch to manual focusing to ensure your ideal results.
6. Make the most of water
You’ve made all that effort to get out and about with your camera – now it’s time to make the most of the water! Don’t just look for standard street photo subjects; instead, find unique angles that show water splashing or lovely reflections.
You can capture water splashing into drains or puddles as it pours off a bus-stop roof. You can capture people hunched over as droplets bounce off their umbrellas. Once you start looking, I’m sure you’ll find many interesting subjects to photograph.
When you’re feeling tired and decide to take a break, find a coffee shop with a window facing the street. You can enjoy a hot drink and keep taking photos through the glass (these are some of the most classic rainy-day images!).
7. Include electric lights
While it’s often a good idea to photograph when the light is stronger – after all, you want to keep that shutter speed fast to prevent blur – the early evening is also a great time to do street photography in the rain.
As the electric lights begin to turn on for the evening, take notice of them. Look at how they reflect in buildings and off all kinds of surfaces. The reflections from all the lights being turned on can totally transform a street.
I love to photograph during the so-called “blue hour” each evening when the electric light balances out the ambient light. That way, you can set your exposure to capture the lightest areas of the scene (the electric lights) and wait as the sky darkens until it becomes a rich blue tone. This looks best when the sky is clear but will also often produce a blue hue even when the sky is overcast.
8. Capture isolated colors
As I mentioned above, rainy days tend to offer very dull light – and this can be challenging to work with. One handy technique is to find a bright splash of color to lift an otherwise lifeless scene.
For instance, you might look for a yellow, red, or blue umbrella, which can provide a lovely infusion of color in a crowd scene. Colorful raincoats can also be great, and a single person crossing a road with a yellow jacket can make for a wonderful image.
When you find an exciting umbrella or raincoat, follow it for a while. Don’t be a stalker, of course, but just shadow the person as they walk and capture a series of images that make the most of the bright splash of color on a dull day.
9. Experiment with different shutter speeds
Street photographers tend to use faster shutter speeds to freeze the action, but did you know that you can create interesting rainy-day images by slowing down that shutter?
Mount your camera on your tripod, and – working in Manual mode – adjust your exposure settings so you have the slowest shutter speed you can achieve without overexposing the shot. (You’ll want to close your aperture down and ensure your ISO is at its base value, too.)
With a low ISO and a narrow aperture, your shutter speed should be slow enough to capture the movement of the raindrops as they fall. Experiment with your point of focus. Because your aperture is narrow, your depth of field is going to be reasonably deep, especially if your focus point is not too close to the camera.
Once you have some interesting long exposures, go in the other direction. Adjust your settings so you can use a shutter speed of 1/500s or faster to photograph the rain. This will freeze the droplets as it falls and produce very different-looking photos from the ones you took using a slow shutter speed.
Street photography in the rain: final words
Hopefully, you now feel ready to capture gorgeous rainy-day shots! Remember to plan your street photo sessions well, and you’ll enjoy them all the more. Find dry locations and other areas where you’re comfortable setting up, and don’t be afraid to stay in one place for a solid chunk of time. The more you move, the more good photo opportunities you will miss.
Think about how you can make the most of the water and the dull light. Look for reflections of light on wet surfaces, and use the result to make dynamic compositions. Use your imagination and create photos that most people would never think to take.
Most importantly, keep yourself and your gear dry. Take along two or three dry microfiber cloths and some large plastic bags so you can dry and store your gear once you’re done.
Now over to you:
Do you have any tips for shooting street photos in the rain that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!