When Using Color in Street Photography Makes Sense

Digital, Ricoh GR 
“The East Atlanta Strut”, Georgia, 2014 
8/16/16 EDITED: Original post, September 29, 2014.

I wholeheartedly embrace the idea that monochrome lends a certain beauty to a photograph that demands more of both the photograph and the photographer. However, the subject of color versus black and white is interesting to me, so I thought I’d share my personal reasons for using color in street photography too.

CAVEAT: These are purely personal reasons that I completely made up on my own and arguments could be made for processing in a totally different way! I still love black and white and have a companion post about its use in street photography, but these are just my own justifications for using color appropriately.

When Using Color in Street Photography Makes Sense: My Top 5 Reasons 

1) When the scene demands color for meaning or impact.

Here’s an obvious reason: You simply couldn’t have seen this girl in the same way if it was shot in black and white and it wouldn’t have had the same impact. The red is what drew me in. It has its own dramatic flair and treating this in black and white would have felt like an injustice!

image of girl in red-juliette-mansour-photography-9305


2) When removing color threatens to alter the captured mood of a scene or alter a compositional strength

In my opinion, shooting this in black and white would have added a level of seriousness to the photo when in this case, there is nothing serious about this scene. It also adds an aspect of framing to leave the man on the right in the foreground and the woman on the left in the background in their matching colored hats.

The use of color in street photography

In the below shot you can see the same principle of color adding to the framing, the balancing and the symbolic meaning of the photo.

I couldn’t choose black and white when these colors of added so much balance to the scene. You see repetition of these colors, which create a sense of cohesion as well as framing.  Without color, some of the vibrant energy behind the scene would be lost.


The use of color in street photography

3) When color creates a visual cohesion between contrasting elements


This shot was taken of the guitarist in front of a shop window and on the window are hand-painted billiard balls.  Now, when you think of billiard balls, you don’t think of them in black and white. This shot depends on color for comprehension AND cohesion because of the distinct colors inherent in each ball; elements that most of us remember as colorful from our own prior knowledge and experience.

In the reflection you also see the passerby’s figure. Color also helps to distinguish between the people and objects reflected in the mirror versus the guitarist and the billiard balls. This scene is a little deceptive to begin with due to the reflections, but without color, it might be even harder to tell what is going on this scene entirely.


The use of color in street photography



Last but not least…….. using color in street photography makes sense…

5) When color creates tension, drama or curiosity about the story

In this photo, my original intent was to capture the girl’s tattoos against the background of the artwork. The colors and subject matter in both caught my eye. When I began to frame the shot, I also happened to see the shadows of the figures on the right, so I shot a second time, capturing both into the scene.

In this case, keeping the photo in color not only works to create that contrast, but the black in her dress leads your eye to the shadowy characters, also providing a frame for the image. The added bonus was the shoe with the red shoelace in the background!

The use of color in street photography


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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