Black and white photography vs. Color?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by viprit, Mar 11, 2019.

  1. Recently I've gotten into street photography. Whenever I flip through portfolios or google street photography for inspiration, I see that many pictures of people are in black and white, but there are some that are in color. When should you use black and white? I am editing some photos and I just cannot decide which is better.

    I'm not sure if I should post an example picture, so if you need a reference so you can help me with a complete answer please let me know and I'll leave one in the comments!
    mikemorrell likes this.
  2. That's a tough question to answer, as color vs black & white is a very personal choice. I often prefer b&w when it comes to different subject matters......street photography, portraiture, landscapes, still life, etc., etc. Color can often be distracting when trying to convey a message with your image. Try looking at your images both ways and see what moves you most. You might find that others will see or feel what you do as well, with a simple conversion to b&w. Some may accuse you of being old-fashion, but you're not. You're being artistic!
  3. Check out THIS ARTICLE, which has several examples of well-known photographers who’ve done street work in color.

    Does something in each of their work strike you as a reason they used color? Would something be lost in a black and white version? Notice warm and cold colors and how that makes you feel and how it influences the content. Do colors add a boldness in some cases, a sense of mutedness or softness in others? In which photos does color seem essential and in which does it just add to the overall expression? How does color help create mood and atmosphere? How is it used to move or direct your eyes? How does color help isolate, or join, objects? Doesn’t color sometimes seem to define a scene?
    sjmurray likes this.
  4. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I don't mind color for street photography, but the guy writing the article comes across as a real idiot who's stuck on his hatred of B&W photography.
  5. I posted it because I thought these were good examples of color use in street photography, not for the writing. I supplemented it with questions I thought the OP might consider in choosing color.
    josue_armand_serrano likes this.
  6. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I looked at the color examples shown, and didn't have any problems with them. That's good, isn't it? LOL.
  7. Dark adapted vision doesn't see color, but most night street photography isn't that dark.
    Even so, it seems to me that color is less visible in night street photography.

    Also, the lack of red in mercury lamps, not quite as common as they used to be, makes nights
    less colorful. San Jose, CA, uses low-pressure mercury street lamps, which are pretty much
    monochromatic yellow, with two very narrow and close together spectral lines.
    (589.0nm and 589.6nm. Hydrogen-Like Atoms:Sodium )
    So, everything is light or dark yellow.

    So, maybe it is that black and white is closer to the way we see night streets.

    Daytime street photography should be colorful, though.
    • When there is a reason to do so, like:
    1. (Mass) printing issues.
    2. personal wet darkroom preference.
    3. WB mess
    4. disagreeing with your subjects color (choice)s
    5. Winogrand quote: "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. "
    • When it is, what your camera will deliver. (Monochrom or Tri X, HP5 etc. loaded)
    I can't come up with a rule demanding B&W on color screens captured with color capable devices beyond: If you think it looks good, that 's probably right.
    I have & had fun shooting native B&W, but I must confess: I very rarely ended converting color. Maybe shooting BW JEPEGs along with one's RAWs helps getting into that mood?
  8. SCL


    These days I only shoot B&W with my film cameras. but almost always color with my digitals, as it is easy to convert to B&W if I desire to do so.
  9. There isn't a single answer, IMHO. Even though I came of age in a B&W wet darkroom, I don't convert from color to B&W all that often. When I do, it is usually for one of two reasons, which are really aspects of the same thing. when the interesting parts of the image are things other than color--lines, textures, patterns--B&W sometimes highlights them. Second, sometimes color is a distraction. I think the second occurs fairly often in street photography. For example, when you want the viewer to focus on a face, a brightly colored street sign is less of a distraction if you convert to B&W.
  10. Good question, @viprit, my take on it is that the earliest well-known street photographers (born between 1910 and 1940) shot in B&W. Some current street photographers assume that 'street photography' means B&W, either as a tradition or as a homage to their predecessors. Often, amatuer photographers take a 'walking around' photo and assume that a B&W version looks more like 'street photography' than the origional color version. Other well-known street photographers (Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr) shoot in color.

    Personally, I don't think that 'street photography' is much
    different to other genres, except for the fact that it's more acceptable in B&W than other genres.

    - tghehe first recognised
  11. I still have some Panalure if I want to make black and white prints from color negatives.
  12. For sure. In film you could print B&W from color negatives, but it wasn't very satisfactory, IMHO. Nowadays with digital I just shoot RAW and make decisions about monochrome or color depending on what I'm doing and how I feel at the moment.

    Now that I have scanned in my former slides, I can torture the image as I please.
    Berlin 1972​
  13. IHMO, there are no 'rules' for choosing B&W or color. As previous posts have said, both B&W and color photos are legit for street photography. Well known street photographers - past and present - have used B&W and/or color. IMHO, it often helps when setting up a photo to have a 'feel' for whether the photo is (probably) going to look better in B&W or in color. This 'feel' can change when viewing or in PP.

    IMHO, street photography is not much different to other genres. For some photos, color can add a lot of value. For example where color range or contrasts contribute to the photo. In other photos the color perhaps distracts.
  14. As an old motorcycle commercial once touted, "Different Strokes for Different Folks". I am primarily a B/W guy, but my digi camera allows me to select a b/w mode while on the fly. No regrets when this is done, as the monochrome is just as good as with the "real film" camera. Here the color is represented in monochrome with a red filter added. Subject matter might change, but the effects would be similar. 2k19-030-DSCF4572 ces3-vert.jpg Aloha, Bill
  15. My eyes like the B&W conversion here better Bill. Good catch.
  16. Something I notice about Bill’s black and white version (nice conversion and toning, by the way), is how much bigger, clearer, and seemingly more forward the wall art is. It’s due in great part to the way the blue of the sky relates to the blue in the wall in the color version, creating less sense of separation.
  17. It's sort like this for me. What black and white can do is encourage the viewer to really look at what's in the photo. I believe that our minds take a lot of shortcuts when it comes to interpreting the images we see. Colors speed that process. But when the colors aren't there we are forced to look harder to pick things out. We notice things that we might not otherwise. But there are plenty of instances where the colors are integral to what we're trying to capture.

    Right now I pretty much only use film for B&W unless it's medium format or higher. There are exceptions. I have a bunch of 12 exposure rolls of expired film that I use to test cameras and I'll get some nice pictures that way but for color photography it's 90 percent digital for me.
  18. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I've always thought that B&W prints have more impact than color prints, mainly since we see in color, not B&W. As a result, B&W requires more attention to interpret since we're not "used to it". Just my opinion.
  19. Good point.

    On the other hand or at least in addition, historically speaking we’re more used to black and white photos so a case could be made for color photos being more unusual and commanding attention because of that history. I guess this goes along with my seeing photos as much as an artifice as a representation of the world, both aspects being important. So, I tend to see photos as much in relation to other photos and forms of art as I do in relation to the world.

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