Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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This is more of a general observation and an attempt to analyse it. Most of the street photographs I have come across have been presented (either shot in or post processed) in B&W. Are there notable benefits of doing so other than "it-looks-nice"? Is this a best practice in street photography?

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I'm curious about this. I've never observed that they do. Can you post links to pictures/galleries that showcase B&W street photography shots? –  skytreader Apr 12 '12 at 12:34
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I assume that in large part it is because of this. –  mattdm Apr 12 '12 at 13:13
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The stock saying is 'with black and white you photograph the person, with colour you photograph their clothes' - in other words, black and white cuts down on distracting colours. –  ElendilTheTall Apr 12 '12 at 13:35
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there is a saying "Photographing people in black and white capture their souls" –  akram Apr 12 '12 at 14:41
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The answer is because of history. A lot of street photographers came out of the era when BW film was available. And color film was still developing. BW film was often pushed to create grain and contrast. –  Alen Apr 12 '12 at 21:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When using B&W, you have decided that the colors are suppressing the subject and you want the viewer to concentrate on geometric's. But this is strictly decided by the photographer eye. A more detailed article about this subject can be found here

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I can tell you why I do it:

  • I sometimes shoot at night with high ISO and the colour noise is really unpleasant, in B/W looks better.
  • I am partially colour blind and sometimes I blow white balance.
  • The colour is not necessary to tell stories.
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+1 for mentioning noise from high ISO. Having a D3000 where ISO upwards 800 is bound to produce good amount of noise, B&W really makes sense for some pictures that are otherwise great. –  Regmi Jul 16 '13 at 17:47

Simple,

Ted Grant once said;

When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!

The "soul" term here doesn't necessarily mean their thinking, their character or their honor. It's to emphasize the feeling, adding a bit more emotion, loneliness and nostalgia. Try the both versions on the same photo and you'll see what I mean.

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My 2 cents:

Usually there are many things happening on the street and the photographer usually does not have control over them. This means there will be many distractions. B&W images take care of this by atleast getting rid of the colors. ofcourse, if you have a big chimp dancing on the street and you click a picture of someone standing in the corner, the attention will still be diverted to the chimp.

Secondly, black and white adds really good contrast and makes things pop out. Also, expressions look very interesting in b&W/sepia which I believe is one of the reasons for the success of instagram.

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I think it's also often because there can be a great many distracting elements in a street photograph - unwanted grafiti, rubbish, posters etc. By presenting the image in B&W the eye doesn't stop for long on all these other elements with their clashing colours and shapes which only serve to detract from the subject.

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I debated on whether this should be a comment or an answer...

I know a number of photographers in my area who do street photography in b&w and color. B&W is usually the style of choice for photographing the down and out people in our society such as the homeless and desperate. The reasons they use b&w (enough are acquaintances and friends for me to know their preferences) are pretty simple:

  • B&W makes it look "gritty"
  • It can hide exposure problems (blown out sections or noisy sections)
  • It creates mood and if the subject is depressing can easily contribute to that feel

Now, color always seems to be used for general street photography such as the coming and going of people through the day doing whatever they're doing. I don't usually see b&w for that.

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+1 for mentioning "exposure problems" –  Regmi Jul 16 '13 at 17:44

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