Street Photography Black And White Vs Color

December 28, 2018 3:40 am by columnblogger
Bw will work best if your subject already has a timeless look
The pros and cons of black white versus color for street and travel photography
Street Photography Black And White Vs Color

With some images I can say color and it’s a easy decision making process, but with others I just don’t know what the hell to do at times. What I want to do is list the Pros of each. Truth be told I plan to work on my first book this second half of the month and keeping a similar tone in every image is extremely important to me.

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Choosing a color theme then you are out on a photo walk can be a fun project. Here my color theme was blue!

Autumn in Paris would not be as well conveyed in a B&W photograph.

People like color. If I dropped a photo book that was strictly color then chances are i would attract more people. B&W is for the serious consumer, that person is likely a photographer or someone who enjoys looking at photography, color may attract someone who’s interested in the scene. If the title of my book was Detroit Hero’s then they may pick it up simply because the saw Detroit, but the color pictures would likely prompt them to flip through more pages than B&W.

Here a B&W conversion would not make any sense and the subject would lose interest.

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Editor’s Note: This is last of a series of articles this week featuring black and white photography tips. Look for earlier ones below.

Over the last 2 years I’ve heard this statement several times. I’ve see it on Instagram, I’ve seen it on photography forums… Hell, I’ve probably recited it here once before, who knows. It’s one of those quotes that we all know, but choosing between the two isn’t that simple. As a person I know I don’t have to choose between the two, but as someone who believes in aesthetic I feel almost forced two.

When is color preferred? The color can be an integral part of the story, which also means that a black and white conversation would take away the most important component of the image, and it would not make any sense.

I’m not going to sit up here and act as if this isn’t an advantage. Editing in B&W is easier, it allows you to at times use photos that would be unusable in color. Some examples would be over-exposed images, out of focus images and images with noisy backgrounds. It’s okay to add a shit ton of shadows or vignetting to make your subject the only subject. I’m not saying the decision to use a B&W edit on your images will make the overall image better, just that it can make it useable. 

You may like to use black and white for its timeless quality. If your subject also has a timeless look, a black and white processing will make your image stand the test of time, and often give it a more artistic look. This is even more true when no element in your frame dates your photograph (such as mobile phones, cars, etc.). Other times, the black and white processing will even help hide those elements.

This short video about Color versus B&W is part of my Street Tips series called Hit the Streets with Valerie Jardin

Silhouette photographs are often stronger in black and white than in color. The human element featured should be well-defined, and there needs to be some separation to identify the shape of the body. Removing the color will help make your subject stand out more, especially if it is small in the frame. The eye will automatically be drawn to the human shape.

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By removing the color distraction it’s a much stronger image, bringing attention right to the subject.

First, let’s assume that you are shooting with a digital camera and the choice of color or monochrome treatment can be made at the post-processing level. The decision of choosing color or black and white if you are shooting film is a different story, and requires a different frame of mind, as it is usually made before you leave the house.

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Going out on a photo walk with a specific color in mind is also a fun way to approach street photography. You will be surprised at the creative ways you will see the world around you by focusing your vision on one color. Try it!

Don’t forget that it’s your vision, and you are shooting street photography for yourself first. Don’t get stuck, try new things! If you always shoot in color, go out and train yourself to see in grayscale for a few days. If you favor black and white, take another look at the world around you and learn to appreciate and use the colors it has to offer. You may discover a whole new way to see, and you will undoubtedly grow in the process. Have fun!

So, the questions is this: Is street photography better in color or black and white? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is definitely a personal preference. Some photographers only shoot in color, others prefer black and white for all their work. For my part, I let the subject dictate the choice and that decision is usually made before I press the shutter.

There are other times when the color is amazing but also overpowering, and risks becoming the subject because the human element is lost in the chaos.

So where does that leave me? Still confused I guess. The book I’m working on is just a documentation of my city. I want to showcase what stands out to me, rather that be people or places. Currently the majority of my work is edited in B&W, but I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t enjoy looking at color myself. I’m interested in your take on this. What’s your editing process like? Are you more swayed to B&W or color? And Why? 

Color will also often give a sense of place or time in street photography. It will evoke the feeling of a season, for example, or the time of the day – from the warm glow of the golden hour, to the cool tones of the blue hour.

B&W will work best if your subject already has a timeless look.

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B&W is mostly associated with street photography. In the past color was looked at as an ametuer option. It was mostly used with disposable cameras and if you shot with it people just assumed you weren’t that skilled. Times have obviously changed now, but B&W is still the dominant choice when shooting in the street.

This will make it possible for me to continue to make content and explore my creative ideas.

It’s not often you see a full portfolio in color. However, when you do and it’s good you seem to respect it more. Photographers like Trent Park are known for using color and they are known for using it well. Bright reds, occasional greens, they work really hard to incorporate pleasing colors throughout each image… You have to respect that.

In this frame the subject is interesting but your eye is drawn to the colors of the street signs.

There are also some strategic reasons to favor black and white over color. As street photographers we usually do not remove elements from the frame in post-processing. Our job is to record an authentic moment in time, that never happened before, and will never happen again. A skillful street photographer makes quick decisions, and is able to remove distracting elements from the frame by moving in closer and positioning him/herself correctly, before pressing the shutter. Most of us would not resort to using post-processing tools to remove objects. There are times when bright colorful elements such as stop signs, trash cans, or cars are inevitable, and will draw the attention away from the subject. By removing the color, you are able to bring the attention back to the human element.

Daily Struggle: Black & White vs Color In Street Photography

Though B&W is the name brand, color is equally as popular, notably because it’s what we see as people. We can relate to it, everyone. Some of the biggest street photographers today have used color becuase it connects with the reader. When Ted said when you photograph in color you photograph the clothes, what he really meant was when you photograph in color you are looking to capture the entire scene and sometimes that’s what the majority of people want to see.

Note: This week is Black and White Photography Week on dPS and to celebrate we’re offering 50% off our Ultimate Guide to Black and White Photography eBook when you use the coupon code BW50 during check out.

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Finding a great background, such as a textured wall or a colorful storefront, is a great way to anticipate a shot, by waiting for the right subject to enter your frame. It may be even more important to get the right subject in a color shot than in a black and white picture. Color harmony plays an important role in making, or breaking the image. Most importantly, color should not overpower your subject. It should be part of the story, not a distraction from it.

Consistency plays a big part in my life. i believe things should be the same, every time, otherwise why do them the first time? Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part I think we can agree that we want our body of work to have a similar feel. Editing in B&W definitely allows that to happen. What I like most about it is how consistent it is throughout the entire day. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting at 6AM or 2AM, you’ll likely have a similar edit. This works great in a book or a nicely organized portfolio.

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!” — Ted Grant

By shooting in RAW you retain all the color information in your file, which allows you to play with the color sliders in Lightroom and turn a distracting color into a light or dark grey tone to fine-tune your final image.

Finding a textured colorful background and waiting for the right subject to enter your frame makes for a strong color street photograph. The green tires and blue shoes completed the shot.

It’s interesting when a photographer evokes emotion from a stranger, but it’s also interesting when I see pictures being taken in my local neighborhood or places in which I’m familiar with. I recently did a mini segment for fun at Wal-Mart, the images weren’t great but it was recepted well because people know those colors… they know those signs, had this been in B&W it may not have gotten any attention.

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