There are several things to consider when shooting in bad weather. First, is making sure your equipment survives the bad weather. Come snow, hell or high-water, you want your equipment to be safe. Second, what can you possibly want to shoot in inclement weather? Well, read on . . .
Generally bad weather means rain, or at least it does here on the Wet Coast. But, it can also mean extremely hot (I wish) temperatures or even freezing temperatures. I will post on these as the weather conditions warrant. For now, the forecast is for months of rain!
If it’s raining, you need to think about several things. One, is your camera weather sealed? If it is, you do not have much to worry about, but you should still try to keep excess rain to a minimum. You may even want to test your camera by using it in the rain for a short time. But first, make sure all your caps and covers are firmly in place. Push on all of them to confirm they are snug. Then head out and shoot in the rain. Once you are done, use a good dry towel to dry off the camera very well. Then, open all the doors, hatches, caps, and gismos and have a look to see if any water has gotten into any of the compartments. Soil and other debris can prevent proper sealing. Always keep your camera clean.
If you have a non-weather sealed camera, then you have several options depending on how heavy the rain is. I’ll let you decide which is best for you, but in the end, keep it dry!
You can use dry areas to shoot from, under covers or under awnings or in doorways. These work at keeping you and the camera dry. Hopping from shelter to shelter works well but it can be limiting. You can also shoot from inside your car, either through an open window or a rain drenched windshield.
Wearing a long and slightly oversized jacket or parka allows you to keep the camera safely against your body and out of rains way. This method does force you to bring the camera into the rain for a short time when you need to shoot. This works well in light misty rain. Wearing a ball cap or a broad-brimmed hat will also offer your camera some protection when you bring the camera up to your eye.
Using an umbrella works if you can do one handed shooting while still holding the camera steady. The benefit of using an umbrella is that it will keep you dry better than just a parka.
Other options include purchasing rain gear for your equipment like the OP/TECH USA Rain Sleeves. The problem with these is even the small size are designed for DSLR cameras with a standard zoom lens. Shooting a DSLR with a 50mm lens or with a smaller Mirrorless Camera, these rain covers can be too bulky.
A great option is making your own rain sleeve using a plain clear plastic bag. There are countless videos and tutorials on how to make them and properly install them with your camera. Here is a shot of a quick one I made for my camera in two minutes. I would cut the bottom off a bit though. Decide if you want your hands outside the bag, which can be tricky with dials or having your hands inside the bag which means having a large enough bag. Remember that access to the ZOOM is not an issue as you should be using a prime lens or fixing your zoom lens at a specific focal length.
On the right is a plastic bag DIY rain cover that I made in about 90 seconds. There are many videos on how to do this that I was going to share, bud sadly there are not many good ones. I may have to create one. For now, check out a few videos and adapt for your camera.
In the end, keep dry, keep your camera dry, stay warm! Wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Now that you are ready to brave the weather, what will you shoot? At first its easy to think that wet weather Street Photography is silly as no one will be out. That’s the point though, people have to be out! They must get to work, go to school, eat, buy things, see friends or movies. Bad weather makes for excellent shooting. Things to look for:
Reflections – one of my favorites. Reflections on glass, misted glass, or glass covered with water drops, or even reflections in puddles.
Puddles – besides being a great source of reflections, look for larger puddles in heavy traffic areas. Large puddles at crosswalks will be a barrier for pedestrians that will need to circumvent or better, hop over. Or, if you’re lucky, will walk through when the puddle is deeper that it appears. Curb side puddles can spray pedestrians as the vehicles drive through them. Always a great spot to wait if you see cars spraying sidewalks.
Glass – again, besides reflections, looking through rain drop spotted windows can make for great images. A bonus is you can be in a warm café drinking your favorite beverage while you shoot. Find the right spot and success is yours.
Trickles – if an awning or your umbrella is trickling down in front of you, capturing the trickle, with or without the umbrella in the frame, can add to the bad weather story and can place where the image was shot from.
Umbrellas – bright umbrellas, or multitudes of umbrellas, can help create a great image. Look for them but remember, it about the composition, not just anyone holding an umbrella. Although, the Red Umbrellas are becoming cliché.
Light – is still the magical ingredient in wet weather photography. Look for it. If you can backlight the rain, it will be more visible. Consider shooting into brighter areas including on-coming car headlights.
Eyes – remember that it is still Street Photography that you are doing. Continue to get in close, look to the eyes and expressions. People will often look miserable, or even very happy. Capture those moments.
One last thing to try when shooting Street Photography in the rain is to use your flash. Any flash will do. Do not use your flash to light your scenes or your subjects, but rather on low power settings to light up the rain just in front of the lens. The lit-up rain drops will add to the rain effect.
I always enjoy shooting in the rain. The wet rocks and walkways can be magical. I’ll leave you to look at my wet weather take on the Eifel Tower at the top of this post.
See you on the rainy streets!
This isn’t meant as an end all be all discussion about street photography gear. We’ll have that discussion on another day. It’s meant for the First Time Street Shooters that may have questions. Questions like ‘What gear should I use?’, ‘What lenses should I bring along?’
The nice thing about Street Photography is that ANY gear will work. An old TLR film camera, sure, lots do. A Graflex with a Polaroid back, yep. So, any digital camera will work. It’s important to remember that Street Photography is about getting in close and personal, and that ideally, you want it to be candid. So you want to get in close, but not get noticed.
This is where the right gear can help. My normal photography rig is a Canon 5D MK4 with battery grip, L-Bracket and a Canon EF 24-105 f/4.0 L or a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L series lens. These are big professional looking cameras that people seem to spot from a mile away.
When you approach strangers also, they are less afraid, or rather, more responsive to a smaller cameras rather than big cameras.
Another issue with big cameras is the police, firemen and security people. Even though here in Canada we have the right to almost any photography (know the law, don’t take my word for it), they always want to stop you from taking pictures. The key here is that they want people with BIG professional looking cameras from taking pictures. Try shooting with a big rig at the International Airport in Vancouver. It’s all perfectly legal, but chances are a Security Guard will most likely ask you to stop. Shoot with your phone or small pocket camera and nothing. Try it someday.
Anyways, the point is that small unobtrusive cameras tend to work best at not being noticed. When I used to shoot with my 5D MK2 for Street Photography, I would take off my L-Bracket and Battery Grip and instead of using a large zoom lens, I would attach a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens or a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens which is just a little bigger.
There are several bonuses with this kind of setup. First is that it’s the camera you always use and you are comfortable with it. Secondly is that its cheaper than buying another camera and, buying a great lens for it like a standard 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is very cheap. Third, is these Prime lenses are sharper and have better contrast than their zoom based counterparts. Fourth is they are also way less expensive. The current Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is only $129.00 US (Nov 2017) but you can purchased it for less on the streets and even less used. It is also quieter and faster and better at focusing that the larger Zooms.
The last bonus of using a fixed focal length lens like a 50mm is that it forces you to get in closer. It forces you to start noticing where (how far away) you need to be to get the shot, whether it’s full body or just head and shoulders. Over time as you get used to it, it becomes second nature. Zoom lenses will slow you down and will make you lose some shots.
Many street photographers like the wider angled 35mm lenses (or even 28mm). On the Fuji X-Pro2 with a crop factor of 1.52x its their great Fujinon XF 23mm F2 R WR lens. Using a 35mm lens does two things. First is that is forces you to get even closer, and second, is that wide-angle lenses have a greater Depth-of-Field at an equivalent distance and Aperture. More pictures will be in focus!!
There are other options for lenses, some get used for specific looks and we will discus this in the future. Most street photographers stick to one lens. It helps give them a look, a style, and besides, you’ll never have time to change lenses!
Is there a better camera? Yes. For years Street Photographers including the masters used the rangefinder type cameras like the Leica. Many photographers still do. Currently the trend is to move to mirrorless digital rangefinders like the Fuji X-Pro2, the Leica M, and a few others. Small cameras with an optical viewfinder (or hybrid viewfinder) are ideal. There are other great Street Photography cameras on the market.
Other camera specific gear I bring along are extra batteries and a lens cleaning cloth. On my camera I use a lens hood which is a very small unobtrusive lens hood and no filter.
Other things I bring along are my cell phone with several apps. The newest Google Maps works great and shows you what direction you are pointing in (important). Have a Notepad app like Notepad or my go-to which is AudioNote (Apple). AudioNote allows me to record sound while I take notes. Great when you’re in a rush and misspell things or when you want to do a quick on-street interview. I also bring business cards or you can even strips of cut out paper with your contact info or your website address to hand out, people will ask. It’s a great way to promote your website and to increase traffic to it. Lastly, bring your wallet and money including spare change for parking and handouts.
In a future article we will discuss other suitable cameras, monopods, tripods, remote trigger devices and other gear.
What I do NOT bring along is a camera bag, or any bag for that matter. They just get in the way. The spare batteries are small and easily fit in my front pockets or jacket pockets when I wear a jacket.
So here are my recommendations for those that are new to Street Photography.
- Make your camera as small as possible.
- Use a smaller fixed focal length prime lens like a 50mm or 35mm prime lens.
- If you do not own a prime lens, use your smallest zoom lens, set it at 35, 40 or 50mm and using black gaffer tape (or electrical tape), tape it into place so the zoom will not change while you are out shooting.
- Spare batteries
- Cleaning cloth
- Phone with Apps (or a notepad and pen)
- Business Cards (or printed information strips)
Once you have your gear sorted out, what settings should you use? Next up, settings!