Tag Archives: street photography

Why is Street Photography Dominated by Black and White?

When I think about street photography, I see black and white. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned to think this way, or maybe there’s some other driving force here. Regardless, I hadn’t really thought about it or questioned it until Rachel Fus struck up a conversation on Twitter (@fusphoto) about the recent street photography post:

fusphoto: 15 photos from @EpicEdits’ Flickr Challenge http://tinyurl.com/2afs7uc Y r only 3 of these color? #photo

epicedits: @fusphoto Most are b/w because most of the submissions were b/w. Not surprising given the topic.

fusphoto: @epicedits street photography? how so?

epicedits: @fusphoto You don’t think street photography is typically dominated by b/w? Less so w/digital, but I still see more b/w street pics.

fusphoto: @epicedits this is true but y? the “streets” are infused with color yet people don’t use it. the merry-go-round for instance. WTF?

epicedits: @fusphoto Never really thought about the why of it… I have my ideas, but maybe I’ll post a blog discussion this week to hear from others.

[tweetmeme]And so here we are. Rachel brings up a good point and it really got me thinking. The streets are full of color, yet most street photos are either captured or published in black and white. WTF indeed!

Now, nobody’s saying that street photos can’t be in color, or even that the best ones are only in black and white. There are tons of examples out there that break the “rules” in this arena. But I have two thoughts on why street photography is closely coupled with black and white images.

1. THE MASTERS HAVE BRAINWASHED US

brainwash NOW!
Creative Commons License photo credit: ranjit

Elliott Erwitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gilden, Robert Frank, and countless others have taught us that street photography is black and white. William Eggleston would be a strong exception to the rule, but a lot of the “old masters” shot in black and white. Why? Probably out of convenience more than anything, though I’m sure a few of them have always loved the black and white end of things.

At any rate, a lot of the recognizable masterpieces in street photography are black and white images. If you see enough of that, your brain starts to make the connection… street photography = black and white. So I’m going to argue that we’ve been brainwashed by the masters.

2. COLOR IS A DISTRACTION

For my second reason why street photography works better in black and white, I’m going to get all “deep” and stuff.

what you are worrying about right now is a distraction from what's really important in your life
Creative Commons License photo credit: Torley

Color is an element of every photo. Just like framing, composition, subject matter, lighting, exposure, etc. But color is one of those elements that can essentially be turned off. Street scenes can be very busy with lots of distracting elements as is, and color will often add a level of complexity that leads to sensory overload in an image. Background elements can be a major distraction: the bright green car, the guy in the red shirt, the neon sign, and so on. My thought is that if the color isn’t adding something important to the image, it doesn’t need to be there (and it might even hurt having it there).

I’m not going to get much “deeper” than that… you get the point. But don’t be too quick to attack — these are just my own opinions and observations on the matter.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

Do you agree that street photography is dominated by black and white? Why or why not? Is this changing as we go further into the digital age of photography? I’d love to hear some thoughts on the topic.

15 Street Photos From Our Readers

[tweetmeme]Last week I announced that we would be running a new feature here on the blog: The Epic Edits Flickr Challenge. For the first topic, I chose “street photography” and asked you to submit your best photos to the Flickr pool. In a week, we had over 70 entries and I narrowed my selections down to 15.

It was tough choosing a favorite, but I ended up going with the image below from Victor Bezrukov. So now he gets to choose the topic for challenge #2.

happy runner
happy runner by Victor Bezrukov

Victor has chosen the topic of “analog photography” — basically anything shot on film. Any format, any type of camera, etc.

CHALLENGE #2: “ANALOG PHOTOGRAPHY”

FLICKR TAG: “EE-ANALOG”

And don’t forget that your photos must also be in the Epic Edits Flickr Pool. Winner of the next round picks the next topic. I’ll post my selections in about a week.

Here are the remaining selections from Challenge #1:


Untitled by versusnyc82

Fear and Loathing on the People Mover
Fear and Loathing on the People Mover by Cherie S.

staten island ferry
staten island ferry by versusnyc82

Rainy Day
Rainy Day by chris honiball

Vidas Paralelas
Vidas Paralelas by portafolio fotográfico – William López

Untitled #31
Untitled #31 by Peepin Pixel Piker Pepper

Sunny Days
Sunny Days by Bryan Davidson

Just Passing Through.
Just Passing Through. by demosthien

Merry-Go-Round
Merry-Go-Round by Bryan Davidson

Street Scenes - The Apprentice
Street Scenes – The Apprentice by KBTimages.co.uk(uk_photo_art)

late for a date
late for a date by KBTimages.co.uk(uk_photo_art)

geese
geese by rince_77

Faith
Faith by ✪ th1rt3en ✪

Sundial
Sundial by ✪ th1rt3en ✪

New Feature: Epic Edits Flickr Challenge

[tweetmeme]I’ve been meaning to do this sort of thing for a while, so let’s see if we can get it going. How does a periodic photo challenge sound? You know — I post a topic/subject, you post photos to the Flickr pool, I pick out some good ones to exhibit in a blog post, you become rich and famous (no promises though).

A few other sites and forums do this sort of thing, so why shouldn’t we? Our Flickr group is getting quite large and we have a ton of great photos coming through each day. In addition to the PhotoDumps, I’d like to highlight some specific topics of interest. Here’s what you need to do in order to participate in these “assignments”:

[UPDATE 5/24/2010] This challenge is over and the results have been posted. Check there for the next assignment, or visit the Flickr group page.

CHALLENGE #1: “STREET PHOTOGRAPHY”

FLICKR TAG: “EE-STREET”

Interpret that as you will, it just needs to be in the realm of “street” and “photography”.

  1. JOIN THE EPIC EDITS FLICKR GROUP
    The only way to post photos to the pool is to join the group, so get on there if you’re not already.
  2. POST PHOTOS ON THE CURRENT TOPIC
    Get out and take some new photos, or find some old ones in your archive that relate to the current topic. Put them in the pool, and remember that you’re limited to one per day. Feel free to interpret the topic as you see fit.
  3. TAG YOUR SUBMISSIONS: “EE-STREET”
    I need to have a good way of finding your submissions, so tag them correctly and make sure they’re in the pool.
  4. WAIT FOR THE SELECTIONS
    After a week or two, I’ll pull together some of the best submissions for a featured blog post.
  5. WINNER PICKS THE NEXT TOPIC
    Each round, I’ll pick out my absolute favorite from the bunch and that person will get to choose the next topic.

Submissions to any round can be new photos posted to the pool or old photos that you’ve already posted. Doesn’t matter — just make sure you tag your submissions appropriately. I’m also going to select photos for the post without notice, so don’t wait until the last minute.

Here’s what a selection might look like (these ones are just mine, the real post will come from you guys)…

Over the Can

Black and White

Battling Fuel Prices

Gangsta

Cigar Humor

Big White Boxes

3 Cops

I Poop Little People, Then Ride Away

Mexican Bus Stop

11 Tips for Candid Street Photography

Candid street photography, or candid portraits, can be some of the most interesting photos captured in everyday places. Heading out into the crowd with a camera is exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. Great photographic scenes play out on the streets right before your very eyes, but people are quick to recognize the camera and ruin the opportunity. Being covert without being creepy — it’s all part of the game we call street photography (and quite different from traditional portrait photography).

DISCLAIMER: I’m not suggesting that anything and everything is either legal or moral in street photography situations. Know the laws and use your best judgment. For further reading on the subject, see this Wikipedia article on Street Photography.

I know this is a debated topic among photographers, but the point of this article isn’t to start an argument about the rights and wrongs of candid portraits. The point of this article is to introduce some tips and techniques with example photos for those interested in this style of photography — this is by no means a complete guide to street photography. So here we go…

1. USE A LONG LENS

If you want a good candid, keep a bit of distance from the subject. Once people are aware of your camera, they’re likely to pay more attention and your chances of getting a true candid go down. I’m not saying you should roll around with a 400mm lens, but anything under 85mm or 100mm is going to be fairly close-range. This one was taken with a 105mm on a 1.5x crop sensor — so about 160mm equiv.

Black and White

2. SNEAK UP FROM BEHIND

Obviously it’s harder to get a candid shot from the front than from behind, but sometimes you have to take what you can get. If you like the scene and your subject is staring off into the distance, take a shot. Sometimes getting a shot without the face can add a bit of mystery to the photo too.

Surfer and Board

3. WATCH THE BENCHES

The hard part of catching a candid portrait is that people are moving, things are passing in front of your view, and your window of opportunity passes quickly. People generally sit on benches, which means they’re not moving around too much and they might be there for more than 5 seconds. Look for the subjects that are focused on some task, such as feeding birds or reading a paper.

Mexican Bus Stop

4. KEEP YOUR EARS OPEN

Your eyes are your primary sensor for photography, but keep your ears open too — especially when your face is pressed up against the back of the camera. You can often hear opportunities coming your way, sometimes before you can even see them.

Battling Fuel Prices

5. SHOOT THE PERFORMERS

Street performers are great fun to photograph. They expect that people will take their photo during the performance, so you need not worry about ticking them off. Plus, they’re usually good characters and make for great portraits. Just don’t forget to throw a few bucks their way — they aren’t usually out there for the pure fun of it.

Cigar Humor

6. FIND GROUP GATHERINGS

If you see a group of people congregating for whatever reason, this is a good chance to mix with the crowd and get up close for some candids. Gatherings can take many forms: drum circles (shown below), protests, rallies, parades, etc.

Moving with the Music

7. DON’T FORGET THE BACKGROUND

A lot of times it’s hard enough to get a good candid shot of the subject, so worrying about the background seems secondary. But if you find a good strong background, get the composition all set up and wait for the subjects to enter the scene.

These Walls Are Busy

8. GET OFF THE STREETS

Street photography doesn’t necessarily have to be done on the streets. Any place where there are people, there will be an opportunity for some candid portraits. So things like public buildings, beaches, parks, etc.

Another Day At The Beach

9. FIND A SPOT AND WAIT

I’ve used this technique from time to time with good results. Find a spot that you like — something with an interesting composition, pattern, or background. Now envision somebody in that scene as you’d like to take the photo. Get all set up… and wait for it. Somebody will eventually walk into the scene and you’ll get your shot.

Big White Boxes

10. USE A WIDE LENS

Not all portraits need to be up-close and personal. Use a wide lens from time to time and capture more of the surroundings than the person — but use the person as an anchor for the composition.

The Watchman

11. SOMETIMES YOU JUST GET CAUGHT…

If you’re going to take candid photos of people on the streets, be prepared to get caught. Also be prepared for anything from a friendly conversation to unfriendly confrontation to physical assault. All I’m saying is be mindful.

Daniel Devenport

I’m interested to hear from all of you on this topic. Leave a comment and/or tip in the comments below… maybe we can pull together another follow-up article full of tips and photos from the readers.

Link Roundup 12-06-2008

Awesome things on the web this week… as usual.

PROJECTS

  • Beyond Phototips’ Photography Contest
    Beyond Phototips
    Susheel is giving away a couple of cool prizes — all you have to do is get creative with DETAIL. Try to dramatize a detail from some object that you would normally not have even noticed. Deadline is December 21st.
  • PROJECT: Iron Chef Photography – Paperclip
    Neil Creek
    In the latest Iron Chef Photography project, Neil challenges us to photograph… paperclips. See what you can do with such a simple object! Deadline is December 25th.
  • Something New – A Photography Project
    DIYPhotography.net
    You still have a little more time to find a partner and swap gear for a chance at a free equipment rental. Deadline is December 20th.

ARTICLES

Link Roundup 02-09-2008

Before we get to the links, I just want to mention quickly that we had our photowalk in La Jolla today. The turnout was awesome! I lost count, but I think probably 15 to 20 people showed up from across Southern California and one from North Idaho. Just about everybody in the shot below was part of our group, plus we had a few others that weren’t in the frame. We had a great time, and I’ll try to post a recap on Monday the 18th — that way people have a chance to get through processing some photos and put them up on Flickr and whatnot.

La Jolla Photowalkers

FOR THOSE AT THE PHOTOWALK: TAG YOUR PHOTOS “photowalking020908″. This will help everybody find the photos, and I’ll also be searching through Flickr and Zooomr for those tags to find photos for Monday’s recap. Now on with the links…

PROJECTS

  • The View From Below
    Neil Creek
    As a photographer, it’s important to think about the uncommon perspective, and get out of the habit of shooting from the same height all the time. This photography project asks you to take and submit a photo from less than 30cm (12in) above the ground. DEADLINE: 02-21-2008
  • Send me a postcard
    All Day I Dream About Photography
    Send Antoine a digital postcard of a place that describes the area you call home. It should be interesting to see all the different places we come from! DEADLINE: 02-29-2008

READING MATERIAL

  • One Image – 17 Amazing Interpretations
    CameraPorn
    Results from a photo editing project similar to the one we ran on Epic Edits. 17 people give their very artistic interpretation of one image.
  • Replacing Skies or What Mood Today
    My Camera World
    It’s pretty amazing what a difference a new sky can make in your photos!
  • Street Tips
    The Meditation of Life
    Good solid street photography tips that talk about candids, fair game, knowing your equipment, expecting the unexpected, and the general nature of street photography.
  • 9 Pet Photography Tips
    digital Photography School
    Antoine gives us 9 great tips for improving our pet photos.
  • Reading Histograms
    SDuffyPhotography.blog
    A guide to reading a histogram and using that knowledge to take better photos.
  • Photowalking Tips
    SDuffyPhotography.blog
    Going on your first photowalk? Don’t forget to take these things with you!
  • 80+ Photoshop Tools and Resources
    Mashable
    A great big giant list of Photoshop resources including filters, brushes, actions, plugins, tutorials, magazines, associations, and other resources.

Link Roundup 01-12-2008

PROJECTS

  • February Challenge
    PhotoChallenge.org
    The month of February will be dedicated to colors! Pick a color a week and shoot at least three photos of that color during the week.
  • You’ve Got a Project? I’ve Got a Wiki!
    ADIDAP
    Antoine is putting together a photography project wiki to keep track of all the ongoing projects that can be found amongst the local blogs. If you host projects, I’d encourage you to contact him and help build up the structure of the site — it should be a great resource if we get a lot of folks on board.

READING MATERIAL

Link Roundup 01-05-2008

PROJECTS

  • It Ain’t What You Got
    Neil Creek
    Creative photography project that encourages you to take good photos with crappy cameras. The results should be quite interesting! I think I’m gonna bust out my kids’ Fisher Price camera – 640×480 resolution, baby!
  • Your Best Photos From 2007
    JMG-Galleries
    Gather up your best photos from 2007 and post them on your photography blog (if you’ve got one). Aside from being a project, it’s always good to evaluate your photography and your progress as the year goes by.

READING MATERIAL

Link Roundup 12-29-2007

Before we get to the list, be sure to check out my super-cool guest-post on “Going with the Grain” over at ADIDAP (we swapped posts for Christmas). I’ve always liked grainy photos, so I put together a little information on the subject and picked out some CC photos to help make my point.