Conservatism in Street Photography

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Nathan King, Sep 6, 2013.

  1. Nathan King

    Nathan King Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 19, 2013
    Omaha, NE
    No, I'm not trying to declare that street photographers are politically conservative - I'm talking about equipment and style. When street photography as we know it originated around the turn of the previous century black and white film was the latest technology. In the past, street photographers were early adopters of new technological advances. Henri Cartier-Bresson and others left large format and began using the 35mm rangefinder camera to great effect immediately after it was developed. Why are street photographers by and large still walking the streets with 35mm rangefinders shooting black and white? Why have new generations of street photographers been so much slower at adopting new technology than previous generations of photographers? It seems as though everybody is content copying the old instead of innovating within the genre.
  2. Just Jim

    Just Jim Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 20, 2011
    B+W gives more leniency in composition by relaxing the need to compose with color in mind and being able to focus solely on subject and luminosity. It's not that color isn't done, it's just very hard to get right and limits what can be done well.
  3. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    People are still painting with oils and water based paints even though one can create digital art too. :smile:
  4. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Real Name:
    Andrew Lossing
    I think black and white just has a "frozen in time" look that lends itself well to the "decisive moment" and allows the subject to stand out when distracting elements of color are present in the scene.
  5. fspeur

    fspeur Mu-43 Rookie

    Sep 23, 2012
    Edmonton AB, Canada
    Real Name:
    For some street photographers, such as Vancouver's Fred Herzog, color is essential, for others, black and white works better.
    My Flickr site: Flickr: speur's Photostream
  6. 0dBm

    0dBm Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 30, 2011
    Western United States
    Adopting new technology is not, for me, necessary to be creative. Although very rare these days due to my often hectic schedule, I still break out the charcoal pencil and parchment paper and/or tempera and oil-based paints. The medium is not as important as the final product. Black and white photography will still find its place hundreds of years from now.
  7. RevBob

    RevBob Super Moderator

    Jun 4, 2011
    NorthWestern PA
    Real Name:
    +1 - There is definitely a timeless quality to B&W that color can't quite match. For certain scenes - murals, colorful dress, street fairs, etc. - color works well. In the end the subject often drives the medium. :cool:
  8. SrPantuflas

    SrPantuflas Mu-43 Regular

    May 26, 2013
    Chile, South America.
    i see a trend now is using color in SP,
    and things like busy pictures with lot of elements, or "cinematic" photos with DOF effects and compositions (some people croping to 16:9 even). at least in the photographers' work that i check.

    (i usually shoot B&W, BTW haha )
  9. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011

    I'm a firm believer that the Viewfinder/EVF is your blank canvas, and how you fill and compose that canvas depends on what textures, colors, shapes and depth of the subject.

    The "Pioneers" of street and documentary photographers were somewhat limited to the available and affordable technology- they don't have the luxury of today's photographer.

    I see TONS of so-called "street photography" that is not thought out, portrays nothing, and lacks a story. Just because it's in black & white, grainy, and shot "auf der Straße" doesn't necessarily make it an appealing piece of work. Just a photo. Even with color..

    A shot with a Leica M9 that fails to convey a story- just simply fails.
    (from another forum)


    Make sure a shot says something or has a hook.. or else why bother.
  10. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    Here are two simple shots that would be lost.

    Color seems to be helpful (at least to me) because of the contrast.

    Both tell subtle stories..

    Attached Files:

  11. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    Here's 10 of the most effective street shots (from Museum of the City of NY with their permission) shot with OM-D and 25mm PL

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  12. RoadTraveler

    RoadTraveler Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 23, 2012
    Right you are, both of those shots are good or better in color.

    And your street work is good.

    The museum pics you posted are interesting.
  13. pbasswil

    pbasswil Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 6, 2013
    I've often thought the same thing.

    When H C-B, Doisneau and even Winogrand were active, street photography wasn't really a recognized field. Those guys pursued it cuz they were fascinated by their societies and by the dramas and compositional opportunities all around them. (Er, in addition to trying to make a living...)

    Now that the entire population is equipped for the job, the genre "street" is pretty well known, and it seems like a cool hobby to a lot of folks.

    Just cuz there are 10,000 guys pursuing it doesn't mean that there are more than a hundred that truly "get" composition and drama -- or more than a handful with the dedication, patience, and sheer genius of the classic masters.

    I don't begrudge anyone a great hobby. But a lot of us would agree that the interweb is sagging from the weight of boring photos. :^/
    It seems like about 10% of them imitate the "street" genre.
  14. CiaranCReilly

    CiaranCReilly Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 18, 2012
    Real Name:
    Ciaran Reilly
    Very few street photographers I'm familiar with use film. Fuji and Micro43s are very popular due to small size, camera handling and response, Leica for those who can justify the cost. I think street photographers have kept with the times, at the end of the day the most commonly desired output is a B&W photo shot at an equivalent focal length of 28 to 90mm. Wider tends to be too wide and narrower creepy. I guess you could compare street photography to bird photography - the subjects are the same as they were 100 years ago!
  15. Black and white goes well with old cataracts and red-green color blind.
  16. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    I think that one area where street photography could be considered conservative or "stuck in the past" is that it is often considered as a low quality medium. By that I mean that excessively noisy high ISO, motion blurred*, and out-of-focus images are considered acceptable when the fact is that they no longer need to be, and of course black & white conversions are more forgiving of these errors. There's plenty of other avenues of photography where timing is critical and yet they have much more exacting standards of technical quality.

    *Motion blur as an exception can sometimes be purposeful and effective.
  17. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Well ah....hold on a second.
    Can't an image be intentionally blurred and out of focus yet be photographic abstract art?

    There are very sharp & précised painted images and then there are blurred and not as sharp paintings. Yet one is not any better than the other but rather accepted as different forms of art. :smile:
  18. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    I still use film.. sometimes I prefer it- except for the associated cost.

    I scan negatives and generally like the results with the OM-2s and now I added a Pentax Spotmatic SPII, so I can have color in one.

    Its really fun hearing the shutter sound of a camera like the OM-2s & Spotmatic.

    The Spotmatic can even accept M42 screwmount Soviet-Era lenses.

    Photography is meant to be fun, right? :2thumbs:
  19. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    My cataracts were removed and I see in color- even in my dreams!
  20. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name: