Why Are Most Street Photos B&W?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by JStheoriginal, Apr 7, 2013.

  1. JStheoriginal

    JStheoriginal Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 9, 2013
    Is there some sort of history behind it? I find the B&W always suits the photos and they almost always look best in B&W...but I've got no clue why!
  2. savvy

    savvy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 28, 2012
    S.Yorkshire, UK
    To remove any distraction from the colour element, so you will focus on the scene, and the content.
  3. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    There is also a lot of history. Henri Cartier Bresson, William Klein and all the other famous street photographers shot B&W. In fact, until the 70s or 80s, almost all "art" was B&W. Color was for family snapshots.
  4. slothead

    slothead Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 14, 2012
    Frederick, MD
    I agree with your statement and would add Ansel Adams - but his wasn't street photography, so why do you suggest this answer as to why street fotog in B&W? Personally I liked savvy's answer a little better - to reduce distractions.
  5. Iansky

    Iansky Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    The Cotswolds, UK

    It became popular in a time when colour film was not too good, today (myself included) many photographers shoot in B&W to add impact and grittiness to the street photo.

    For me, street is more about subject matter, isolation, impact than colours and that is why 90% of my street is B&W



  6. xdayv

    xdayv Color Blind

    Aug 26, 2011
    Tacloban City, Philippines
    I prefer B&W photos, they are more nostalgic, and photographically lets me concentrate on the essentials like composition and emotions in the photograph.
  7. Savas K

    Savas K Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 10, 2013
    Are B&W preference shooters shooting in raw and then converting to B&W?
  8. Bokeaji

    Bokeaji Gonzo's Dad O.*

    Aug 6, 2011
    Austin, TX
    You can do a lot more tweaking that way
    Tho the Olympus grainy b&w mode is nice, as is Ricoh grd b&w modes for jpg people
  9. daimos

    daimos Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 23, 2010
    with mirrorless, you can do both. shoot in raw, and your screen in B&W. so you can see what you want to compose.
  10. KVG

    KVG Banned User

    May 10, 2011
    yyc(Calgary, AB)
    Kelly Gibbons
    This is exactly why I shoot mainly b&w
  11. abepak

    abepak Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 21, 2013
    SFV, CA
    I agree with GFFPhoto's answer in that tradition probably plays a large role in why many street photographers shoot b&w now. Many "fathers" of street photography shot in b&w and those are the pictures that we go back to look and study and in part, to try and emulate. It would be silly to say that their style didn't affect the way modern street photography is taken. B&w has become a de facto style of street photography.

    I understand that b&w can (and should) be used to remove distractions... but surely there can't be distractions in EVERY photo. Yet, there are photographers that will shoot exclusively in b+w for streets.

    With that said, I would like to add that I've been really getting into color street photos. I only convert certain pictures to b&w. Here's a blog post by David Nightingale that I try to follow for my decision making: Chromasia: Which images should you convert to black and white?
  12. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    The reason for *most* street photography being grainy tri-x black & white was due (primarily) to the limitations of equipment and processing, and followers *emulating* what they see as "the real thing".

    Cartier-Bresson's camera (Wikipedia)


    The first renegade color street shooter that I recall (1962) was Joel Meyerowitz:


    He's been shooting images of 9/11 in nyc for a while and if you see his work you can appreciate color.
  13. phl0wtography

    phl0wtography Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 15, 2011
    +1 to that.
    Good street photographs (think of HCB's) don't have distracting elements. They're in b&w because it's much easier to develop, and colour film wasn't available or not that good, as Iansky said.
    Good street photography works both in colour and b&w.

    It's just that nowadys many (present company excluded!) think they can buy a rangefinder styled camera, get out and take random snapshots, strip them off their colour and think it's street photography. There is something to b&w that can make even crappy pictures look good. :wink:
  14. Iansky

    Iansky Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    The Cotswolds, UK

    I always shoot in and use Silver Efex Pro to convert to B&W, this way you still have the full colour master if needed.
  15. KVG

    KVG Banned User

    May 10, 2011
    yyc(Calgary, AB)
    Kelly Gibbons
    I usually shoot in B&W jpeg believe it or not:eek: mg:
  16. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I think there is a lot of history in B&W Street Photography, which lends itself to continue in B&W.

    A bit of history from the film-only days:

    Every drug store and camera shop would take and send out color film for development and prints. Color film was the P&S of the day. Plastic cameras were cheap, plentiful and many were disposal. For a few bucks you had a camera loaded with 24 exposures of color film. You dropped off the entire camera at the drug store and in a week you had pictures. A darkroom was very unique back then. A darkroom separated the men from the boys.

    Nobody had family pictures in B&W, it just wasn't done. B&W was the property of newspapers. For decades, a B&W print reflected upon newspapers and was associated with journalism, reporting ... and a B&W print carried that currency of news and realism. A B&W was not only different from the color snaps of your family, it was something special, something more than color.

    Some Tri-X snaps from the 1970's:

    Broadway Street
    Los Angeles, California





  17. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    So is the "greater challenge" to do color street shooting :confused: 
  18. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    LOL ...
  19. Kingsfan

    Kingsfan Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 22, 2010
    highland park, CA
  20. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
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