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Street Photography: Colour versus BW

by Yvette Depaepe 

The decision of choosing colour or black and white - if you are shooting film - is a different story than when shooting digital, and requires a different frame of mind, as it is usually made before you leave the house.


'wild at heart' by Lara Kantardjian

But is street photography better in colour or in BW?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is definitely a personal preference. Some photographers only shoot in colour, others prefer BW for all their work. The subject often dictates the choice and that decision is usually made before pressing the shutter.

'Popcorn' by Carlos Pablo Silva


'Five, Six, Seven?  Who cares :)' by Andre du Plessis ARPS

There are also some strategic reasons to favour BW over colour. As street photographers usually do not remove elements from the frame in post-processing. The real job is to record an authentic moment in time, that never happened before, and will never happen again.
  A skilful street photographer has to make 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 street photographers would not resort to use 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.

'Remember The Time' by Mirela Momanu


'Days of Static' by Paulo Abrantes


'Shadow lines with Helmut Newton Polaroid' by Lara Kantardjian

When is colour preferred? 
Colours can be an integral part of the story, which also means that a BW conversion would take away the most important component of the image and it may act against the photographer depriving a picture of its sense.

'Feline canine' by Linda Wride


'Assimilated' by Marc Apers

'Tag' by Lorenzo Grifantini

Don’t forget that it’s your vision and you are shooting street photography for yourself first.
Don’t get stuck, try new things!  If you always shoot in colour, go out and train yourself to see in greyscale for a few days.  If you favour BW, 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.

BW was commonly used by the early classics and masters of the 1950’s. Nowadays, film became expensive, cameras became portable.  The digital era made many photographers heading to the street to capture life, no longer bound to heavy equipment which required tripods and longer exposures.

'Sweet Cherry' by Andre du Plessis ARPS


'Synchronized look' by Robert Beliczay


'Street games' by Julien Oncete


'New York, New York' by Gloria Salgado Gispert


'street' by Pedro ferreira

Finally it is the perfect balance and sense of timing with excellent compositional skills that will make great street photographs.   It is not easy for a street photographer to shoot in colour, as many may argue BW does show the soul of a photograph, whereas in street photography you are registering the scene and not a portrait.

'Golden Girl' by Mirela Momanu


Untitled by Gloria Salgado Gispert


'The wait' by Lorenzo Grifantini

'A sudden downpour' by Marc Apers


'Under the rain' by Lorenzo Grifantini


Dear Yvette ... Lovely article, and many thanks for including some of my images.
It's my biggest pleasure to dig into your wonderful work, Andre! We all miss you here... Take care, Yvette
a timely view on the choice and color or not
Great article Yvette!
Many thanks, Cecy!
I have just seen this, thanks Yvette for selecting my images! Let's color rule!!
;-) Thanks for your fine comment, Lorenzo!
Am honoured to be included in this article. Many thanks Yvette!
You're welcome, dear Linda!
Beautiful gallery, I still have trouble choosing between two.
I often do too, Thierry! Follow your heart ;-)
What an interesting reading dear Yvette, this is actually something I keep thinking and thinking all the time . In my case for example, I have realized over the years that in my case, the use of color in the street is very well delivered, it does not distract or become the dominant part of an image but instead, it becomes cultural and rhythmic. I have also noticed, that my color pictures are somehow "surreal". The black and white work feels more traditional and more humanistic; not that the color work isn't humanistic but here you are delving more on the emotional sector and the interaction with the people is more intimate, more "real". Thanks Yvette for including a couple of my pictures here, one in color and one in BW ;)
Thanks, dear Gloria... Glad you enjoyed this article! Love your comment in depth. I admire photographers who are able to use colours in their street photograph. Something I should learn detecting the play with colours ;-) You're so good in both. A pleasure to me to select a colour and a BW image of yours. Have a great week ahead, dear friend! Cheers, Yvette
Thanks a lot for including my image in the article too.
My pleasure, dear Robert!
I think 'Popcorn' by Carlos Pablo Silva would just look perfect in B&W :-) At least I would have recommended when it was posted in Critique :-)
I think B&W needs a clearer layout, and as you said, before pressing the trigger. And as you showed us above, gives less elements to play with. I think in your heart you're a B&W fan, your selection shows colors where they play a very dominant role. That's when I lie them, too. Adding to the theme or mood.
Thank you for this interesting sight on a never ending question...
Hi Mike, thanks for your interest in this article! Of course deep in my heart, I'm a BW fan - when you can call it 'Colourful BW' like the name I gave to one of my lists ;-) . But it was exciting and challenging to look for excellent colour street photographs (and there are a lot!). Yep... it is a never ending question en enriching to discuss about it. Have a great weekend ahead, my friend!
You're welcome, Paulo!
It was a real treat to me to select this great street photographs by excellent 1x members. Congratulations to all the authors. Enjoy this article... and have a great weekend ahead! Cheers, Yvette