When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

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

There are lots of articles about why street photographers prefer monochrome treatments to images as opposed to black and white. That’s why my post on When Using Color in Street Photography Makes Sense: My Top 5 Reasons is more comprehensive.

Since most street photographers agree that monochrome is the way to go, I’d like to use the opposite justifications from my previous post on color to point out that there are opposite reasons for using black and white instead of color.

Digital, Ricoh GR
“The East Atlanta Strut”, Georgia, 2014 
 

1) When black and white creates a visual cohesion between contrasting elements

Here, simply with the use of light, there is a distinction between both subjects; the man in the foreground and the woman in the background. The difference in light and space create their own individual contrast.When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

Likewise, with the use of light, the subject contrasts with her background efficiently without the use of color.

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

2) When removing color does NOT threaten to alter the captured mood of a scene

Although this shot would have been completely fine in color, the use of monochrome not only keeps the mood of the scene intact, it also helps to unify the two subjects in both images, rather than unifying the two subjects and the others in the foreground. Black and white helps to build the energy of these couples.

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

3) When elements within a scene allow removal of color and keep comprehension and distinction

In the first shot, we have a dog and a taco stand. That is it! In the second shot, we have a man who is fiddling with his kilt. In no way did the colors in this shot add to the meaning of either photo. Removing them have in fact, made the photo less busy and provided more contrast. 

 

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

4) When color helps frame and balance a scene (also adding either visual depth and/or symbolic meaning)

There are some photos that need no special framing because the subjects themselves handle both the symbolic meaning, the spatial depth and the visual boundaries, as is the case for these two shots. When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

5) When the subject on its own creates tension, drama or curiosity about the story

Not the best processing job here, but I left this in to show how the subject itself can produce its own sense of drama or story without the use of color. 

 

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

When Using Black and White in Street Photography Becomes The Norm

 

 

There are other articles touting the joys of shooting in both color and monochrome, providing justifications for both. Here’s one of them. As the author said, it can sometimes boil down to ‘stating’ versus ‘implying’.  It’s largely a subjective choice, but these reasons I provided here are for me, tried and true so far.

Thanks for reading!

 

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