Ever since I began street photography I have worked almost exclusively in black and white (or monochrome). I think this was partly influenced by the work of others, the traditions of street photography and also because of personal preference. The only times I will produce a colour image is if the colour is vital to the visual impact of the image. I have nothing against colour street photography and, in fact, I find it quite intriguing how styles and the use of colour or black and white varies by country and continent. For example, I have noticed, there appears to be far more colour street photography produced in Asia and North America than there is in Europe.
So here are 5 reasons why I prefer to work in Black and White;
1. Makes Me Concentrate More on Composition
Most of my work is based around composition and it’s something I work hard at to try and improve. I love using buildings and other structures, strong light and shadow. In some of my work the person is secondary to the scene. I will often find a composition I like and then just sit and wait for the right type of person to come along to complete the image. Removing colour and working in a single tone makes you rely more heavily on good composition and fundamentals. Therefore working this way, I feel, has made me learn more, learn faster and make me a better photographer.
2. I Personally Find Colour Distracting In Many Situations
Remember, these are only my personal views and how I see images. When I am out on the street I am not looking for colours. Very occasionally something may jump out at me because of its colour but this is quite rare. For example, if I see a woman in a striped dress I am not looking at what colour the stripes are but how they fit into the surroundings. By removing the colour from an image you rely much more heavily on shapes, forms, patterns, light and dark and this is how I prefer to work. For me, when I process my images, by removing the colour it’s almost like removing the images clothes. In doing this I get back to the bare bones of the photo and the reason for taking it in the first place. Therefore the colour would be a distraction to me and would not represent what I saw in my mind when I captured the image.
3. Black and White Has A Timeless Look To It
Out of my own personal collection of images, and the ones I view online by other street photographers, my favourites would be photos that have a timeless look to them. For me, if I look at a photo and there is nothing in the image itself to say whether it was taken yesterday or 40 years ago then it gives that image a special quality. People love nostalgia and I think the same goes for photography. Another thing I try and avoid when trying to capture a timeless image is cars or vehicles (but that’s another story). Producing photos in black and white certainly helps to create a timeless, nostalgic feel in my opinion, particularly as colour photography is a relatively new media.
4. Creating My Own Recognizable Style
If you ask anyone that’s into photography of any genre they will tell you how important it is to try and create your own style. This can be a combination of the genre you shoot, composition, focal length, the way you process etc etc. When I upload images to the various Social Network sites I am not too worried about how many people “like” or “+1” them. I am more interested in constructive feedback. But the thing that gives me the most pleasure is if someone says “I knew that was one of your images without looking at the name”! This is another important reason why I use Black and White. It keeps a consistency to my work. If I were to start posting a mixture of both Black and White and Colour images I’m sure my work would become less recognizable than it s now. I always try to use the same tones when processing as well to keep everything consistent. I will explain this further in my final point!
5. Post Processing And The Final Result
For post processing and achieving the final image I only ever use two pieces of software. I use Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro. I do not possess Photoshop and, to be honest, I don’t want it. I am not a fan of HDR, Tone Mapping, Layer Masking etc, particularly in Street Photography. I like to process my images to a level that a competent person could create in the darkroom, nothing more. I like to keep it simple and Black and White lends itself to this better than colour in my opinion. I process all the images in basically the same way and I always use either the first or second “Selenium” tone in Silver Efex Pro. This keeps the work consistent (as I mentioned in my previous point) and makes processing a relatively painless task. I would say I spend about 4-5 minutes on average processing each image. This means more time out on the street shooting!!
Everyone has their own personal views or preferences as to whether they work in black and white, colour or both. These are my reasons, although I have found it quite difficult to put into words. So if there is anything you want to know please feel free to contact me and I will try and explain further.