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Black and white versus colour street photography

by Yvette Depaepe

When you think street photography, you think of the classics and masters who shot in black and white.  
This is also true for the early street photographers of the 1950’s. As film became less expensive and cameras became more portable, photographers headed to the street to capture life, no longer bound to heavy equipment which required tripods and longer exposures.  


Cuba ton sur ton by Edith Hoffman


There are some strategic reasons to favour black and white over colour. As street photographers we usually do not remove elements from the frame in post-processing. Our job is to record an authentic moment in time, that has never happened before and will never happen again. A skillful street photographer makes quick decisions and is able to remove distracting elements from the frame by moving in closer and positioning him/herself correctly before pressing the shutter. Most of us would not resort to using post-processing tools to remove objects.There are times when bright colourful elements such as stop signs, trash cans or cars are inevitable and will draw the attention away from the subject. By removing the colour, you are able to bring the attention back to the human element.

To be honest, it is very difficult for a street photographer to shoot in colour as many may argue b/w does show the soul of a photograph whereas in street photography you are registering the scene and not a portrait. This part is really tricky since colours may at times act against you in producing a good street shot.

Is street photography better in colour or black and white? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is definitely a personal preference. Some photographers only shoot in colour.

When is colour preferred? The colour can be an integral part of the story, which also means that a black and white conversion would take away the most important component of the image and it would not make any sense.

Always keep in mind your own your vision when shooting street photography for yourself. Don’t get stuck, try new things! If you always shoot in colour, go out and train yourself to see in grayscale for a few days. If you favour black and white, take another look at the world around you and learn to appreciate and use the colours it has to offer. You may discover a whole new way to see and you will undoubtedly grow in the process.


The colourful sun bath by Joe B N Leung



Street yellow by Frederick Lim Cung Wei



Untitled by Corrado Chiozzi



Untitled by Gabi Ben Avraham



TErROR by Fabrizio Salerno


Untouchable by Kirk Cypel



Daily Life by Osama Alsulami



War Children by Hasgul Tasbas
Very good choice and writing Yvette!
Very good and very useful article, Yvette. It's an honor that my photo is a part of it.
Thanks, Frederick !!!
Love your selection Yvette, all good examples of the (difficult) art of colour street photography. One big advantage we have now in digital photography is that you don't have to make the choice colour/B&W in advance, enough tools to convert the RAW image into expressive B&W.
Thanks for your fine feedback, Luc !
What a kind surprise to see my image of Cuban street life. I can only support your message and it makes a big difference to choose b&w or color photography. It's a great selection of street photography Yvette. Enjoy your weekend and take care! Kind regards, Edith :-)
Glad you like the article, Edith !!!
Very good selection of color street images Yvette@ Grtz, Nick
Thanks, Nick !!!