You Can't Go Wrong with Rain
There is a colloquial expression used in the U.S. that goes, “Rain is for the birds.” When the expression is used, it means, “It is for the birds, but it is not for me.” That expression does not apply to me, because I believe rainy days are a street photographer’s friend. In fact, it is almost hard to go wrong if you are out taking photographs in the rain.
First of all, a cloudy, rainy day helps solve the problem of harsh midday light. It is true that it adds to the technical challenges that a street photographer always faces. You need enough light and enough shutter speed to capture human beings. Reduced light obviously increases that challenge. But the lack of light is a somewhat more solvable problem than having too much light. If you need more light, increase the ISO. Fortunately, there are no rules for street photographers about how high you can ratchet up your ISO. I regularly shoot on ISO 400. I am totally comfortable with ISO 800. And if an ISO of 1600 or even 3200 is required, oh well. A little noise in a picture can actually add interest.
There is nothing more helpful than the reflections on wet streets and sidewalks. A picture of a person walking along a street often is rather ordinary, but it can be transformed into artistic by the creative use of the reflections from the street on a rainy day. In addition, reflected light is a diffused light source. On rainy days, a street photographer gets to use the same tool of diffused light that portrait photographers use all of the time.
I am always surprised when I can see rain in a picture. Rain drops are pretty small, but they are moving fast. Even if you using a relatively fast shutter speed, if it is raining, you will see a rain trail just as you would see a light trail in astro-photography. Those little rain trails can produce a pleasing texture of lines, often diagonal lines.
With rain comes umbrellas, which is another thing on my “you can’t go wrong with this” list. Umbrellas can add a splash of color. They certainly add to the geometry of a picture with their round or dome shape and the diagonal line that the handle adds. They also can provide a nice frame for a human face.
People tend to behave differently in the rain. That alone makes rain interesting for street photography. They often turn “inward” so it is less likely they will notice you taking a picture. They tend to have a universally recognizable expression, like the expression of determination or irritation or even joy.
If there is likelihood of rain, I always take a poncho. My camera is water resistant, but I don’t like to test that too much. A poncho that covers me also covers my camera, but my camera remains very accessible. It is more common for photographers to use an umbrella. I am just not that coordinated. Another essential piece of rain equipment is a shower cap. It is a handy way to keep a camera dry when it is being used in the rain. The shower caps offered by hotels are perfect and they are a renewable resource! When it is raining, I pay particular attention to water drops on the lens. They form grayish blobs on the picture, which can create annoying post processing work. I always have a micro fiber lens wipe attached to my camera strap. I will wipe the lens frequently to keep water droplets off of it.
Rain is good for a street photographer. So, as the old country western song goes, “I love a rainy night.” Or day.
If you have never taken pictures in the rain, do a “dry” run at home. Photograph some object near your home when it is raining. The object of this exercise is for you and your camera to stay relatively dry and your lens to stay droplet free. This will also allow you to practice getting the settings right for this kind of light.