Find a street that particularly interests you – It may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style.
During the month of August, there is nowhere in Edinburgh more suited to street photography than the ‘Royal Mile’. With the ‘Edinburgh Fringe’ underway, tourists and locals alike flock here to soak up the festival atmosphere. Applying the ‘traditional’ approach to street photography – photographing people – I planned to document all those associated with the festival – street performers, stallholders, baristas and the crowds themselves.
As I have a ‘love, hate’ relationship with street photography, I was a bit apprehensive going into this exercise. Photographing people has always provided me with the most enjoyment. However, in a ‘street photography’ environment, the fear of ‘getting caught’ by those being photographed can affect my confidence and prevent me from taking an image.
My initial idea was to take just thirty photographs, and compare the same image in both colour and black and white. As I never predetermine whether the image I’m about to take would be better suited to colour or monochrome, I felt this approach would reflect my usual methods. However, as we are being encouraged to think about why we may shoot an image in black and white and what our results may show when viewing a scene this way, I understood the importance of sticking to the brief.
I had originally planned to shoot with my Fujifilm X20, as it’s an incredibly small and discreet camera – ideal for a nervous street photographer like myself. But as I wanted to conquer my fears once and for all, I opted for my much larger and obtrusive Nikon D7100 with Sigma 18-35mm lens. As I have a relatively low success rate in capturing what I would consider to be a decent ‘street photography’ image, I knew I would need to take many photographs. I took my photographs over a period of three days and decided to shoot in JPEG, as the idea of editing 60 images seemed extremely time-consuming. I wasn’t consistent in terms of which format I shot in, and when I saw a scene that I felt suited black and white, I set my camera to monochrome.
Of the two formats, I enjoyed shooting in colour more and found it to be an easier process. This is because I never shoot in monochrome from the outset, and will only look at an image in black and white when in post-production. I found the process of shooting in monochrome extremely difficult, and, though it displayed such things as shapes, forms and patterns in greater detail than colour, I believe this is a practice that can take years to master. Shooting in colour was the obvious choice, if the scene was naturally vibrant, though, at times, colourful background objects did pose as a distraction when photographing a single subject close to the foreground. By using monochrome, this problem could be eradicated, as colour is no longer a distraction.
“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls”
– Ted Grant
While I believe both sets contain an equal amount of acceptable ‘street photography’ images, I actually prefer the set which was shot in black and white. Although I found it difficult to picture a scene in this format, it wasn’t until I viewed the final images that I saw the unique characteristics and qualities that it has over colour. I noticed that the light in some of my photographs is presented differently in monochrome, and factors such as its direction and brightness are more evident. I particularly like how the simplicity of the black and white format has helped bring focus to my subjects and their emotions – something I think colour doesn’t offer.
After all the apprehension, I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise. With each shot, my confidence grew, and I feel I have produced a good set of ‘street photography’ images. Although I still think viewing the world in black and white is very difficult and unnatural, I have taken away a great deal from this process, and hope to use what I have learnt on my next ‘street photography’ outing.
ShawAcademy. (2015). “Black and white vs colour photography: When should you convert an image to monochrome?” [Online] Available from: http://www.shawacademy.com/blog/black-and-white-vs-colour-photography/