Black and White Street Photography
It's classic and it sets the style of a former time, black and white street photography brings up powerful images that sometimes have that status because of the lack of color.
The mono tones tell us something different about the scene, leaving other things to the imagination, things we may have otherwise not fully appreciated.
Simplicity – Your Gear
Keep this simple and always have your camera on you…at all times…don't leave home without it. How else are you going to capture those “unmissable” shots? Lightstalking Street Photography guru Federico Alegría explains the importance of this in his post here:
And, the big one – which Lens should I be using for epic street photography? Well, there's no single answer here but…we do have our very own
So what about bodies? Most people will use their DSLR (as opposed to their smartphone) which means you can have excellent control, however, the downside to this is that there's a). weight to consider and b). how conspicuous is can make you look & feel.
If you want better speed and responsiveness (often required for creative street photography) than a point & shoot but less bulk than your beloved DSLR, then a mirrorless camera would be a great investment.
I say “investment” because if you find yourself really getting in the groove with this genre of photography, then you'll want to feel comfortable and ready to rock.
Why Black and White?
Street scenes can be a frenzy of color, meaning you may struggle to move your viewer's eye to where you intended it to go. Okay, a couple of questions,
- Is color adding anything to the scene?
- Is it making your subject really stand out from the crowd – literally?
If the answer is no to both of these, it's probably best to leave it out. It can seem overwhelming when you're in the flow of post production and have all these decisions to make: Color or black and white? Crop or not? This filter, that filter, no filter? I could go on…
Amazing articles by top Lightstalking photographer and contributer, Federico:
- Black & White. Street Photography, Improved by Federico Alegria
- 9 Tips For Black And White Street Photography Post Production by Federico Alegria
So, with this in mind, try and ask yourself that simple question:
“Is color adding depth and dimension or is it just dull or distracting viewers from the story?”
An excellent post here in Eric Kim's blog guest written by James Maher on his views about street photography including what keeping or removing color can mean for your photos.
- Photographic myth: Everything Looks Good in Black And White – Thought-provoking piece by Olivier Duong
- 14 secrets of successful street photography by Paul Bence for Photocrowd
What Can Black and White do for Me?
Secondly, eliminating color from your shoot doesn't mean everything should be black and white, just to save yourself some time in post production. Benefits of losing the color can mean shapes, lines and contrast are hugely emphasized, meaning you've got yourself a whole new dynamic to your photographs now.
Sometimes we all have to push our ISO so high it makes our teeth tingle. As a result, some extra “unwanted” noise will occur. With careful black and white conversions, this noise can be embraced and made a creative element to the whole photograph, not something you're desperately trying to hide!
It's a little similar to the concept of a slanting horizon line in a background. If it's going to be a bit off, make it deliberate and intentional so that it becomes part of the picture.
Creating Timeless Moments With Black and White Street Photography
Sometimes you might be looking to create something from a modern scene the feel nostalgic or classic. Seeing as a great deal of older photography was created via a black and white medium, it would make sense to recreate this in post for this “feel”.
Black and white street photography can enable the photographer to really accentuate certain textures, draw in the eye and create something the viewer can really experience.
Some Further Resources
- Better Black and White Lightroom Guide by Kent Dufault
- 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography by Eric Kim
- Follow the f/8 Rule to Shoot Excellent Street Photos on the Go by Kristin Wong, Lifehacker
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