The Ultimate Guide to Black and White Street Photography
Street photography is meant to be in black and white, right?
While Eggleston, Leiter, Shore, and many others taught us this is not the case, and street photography can be done equally well in both black and white and color, there is still a power that the black and white street photograph can hold over us.
It has this undefinable quality that is rooted in the history of the genre and the history of the greats.
And here are some considerations for creating the best black and white street photographs that you can.
Black and White Street Photography Tips
Shoot in RAW
For the first tip, we’ll talk technically. Even though RAW will capture your photos in color, it carries the most information to be able to create the best quality black and white photo.
This is even more important because of the quick and ever-changing nature of street photos. The light changes so quickly and is so imperfect that you’ll often end up messing up great moments. RAW will allow you more flexibility to fix them and turn them into great black and white photos.
This being said, cameras these days (and particularly Fuji) have wonderful built-in black and white jpeg profiles – so many photographers shoot in JPEG because of this and it’s not the worse idea. It just gives you less latitude to fix the photograph afterwards. And those black and white profiles are always available to add to your RAW file when editing.
Black and white has a timeless quality that is tough to mimic with color photography. It brings people back and can help give your photos that classic feel.
I think this is the reason that so many people connect to black and white street photography. It reminds them of the past and creates nostalgia.
But keep in mind that you can and should take it much further than this.
Don’t only look for moments that look like they were captured in the past. Modern moments also work fantastically well in black and white.
The timeless quality of black and white mixed with very modern moments helps put these modern moments into context. It allows us to see that maybe even though they’re modern, it doesn’t mean they’re normal, and one day they will feel classic and timeless on their own as things change.
When putting together a project of your work, keeping it in all black and white or all color is often the right choice.
This allows your viewer to get lost in the content of the work because the photos all create a consistent world for them.
So when editing your work together, try to keep the feel similar in your photographs. Try to create a world of black and white that your viewers can get lost in.
Light and Shadows
While paying attention to light and shadows is important in both color and black and white photography, there is a difference.
In black and white, shadows and highlights take even more of a graphic quality to them, and light patterns are enhanced.
There is a huge opportunity to create gorgeous photos by paying attention to where the sun is in the sky (or to artificial light sources) and seeing how the light hits a scene.
So always make sure to see where the light is coming from and to understand how it is interacting with your scene. Are there deep shadows and bright highlights? Are there streams of light that you can use? Are there great reflections?
The better you are at noticing this, the more opportunities you will have to create gorgeous street photos.
Don’t Forget About Color
I mentioned this earlier, but even if you are obsessed with black and white street photography, I suggest giving color a try.
Even if you hate it and give up on it, it’s a good experience to have to switch things up.
Create a color project and see how it differs in practice from your black and white work. There are more complications to consider, but you’ll also find that it can give your work an entirely different sensibility.
For instance, my Manhattan Luxe City project is done entirely in black and white. Every time I go to shoot it, I know I’m only shooting that way. But my Quiet Brooklyn project is done with a completely different camera in color, and I don’t even consider black and white when I’m shooting that – there’s a time and place for each.
One of the best things about black and white photography is that it has a way of making faces stand out more and bringing the viewer’s attention to them more than in color photos.
So spend a lot of time focusing on the faces in your photos. You should be doing this anyway, but look for great expressions in the eyes and faces as they will stand out in B&W.
When walking around, don’t just look for the flashiest people. Look for the people who show their feelings outwardly. Look for people with that special quality that makes them standout, regardless of how flashy they are.
Often everyday, ordinary people can create the best photographs because of this.
Color photographs just have a lot more distractions to deal with.
Turning your photo to black and white can save an interesting moment that doesn’t work in color because of all the distractions.
Go Out With Black and White on Your Mind – and On Your Screen
If you want to shoot in black and white, it’s best to think and see in black and white.
Forget the color and try to envision how everything will look in monochrome. But better yet, even if you are shooting color RAW files, you can turn the camera’s LCD screen to only show the photos in black and white.
This will help you to see this way when you are out shooting. It’s a great help.