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.
In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?
The area I chose was around the older part of Geneva, starting at the railway station and walking towards the old town. It’s an area I know well and has lots of opportunities for street photography.
Rather than follow the brief to the letter, I decided to take advantage of digital photography and the ability to shoot in colour and easily convert to B&W. Since the focus of this exercise is about the differences between B&W and colour, it made sense to me to shoot a single set of photos and produce two outputs. In that way, differences in content can be ignored and the focus can just be on the format.
Technically, this meant shooting in RAW, importing to Lightroom and producing a set of colour JPEGS and also a set of B&W JPEGS. I took care to keep the processing the same in order to really compare the two formats.
The most obvious difference is that colour gives a sensation of “being there” – of reality, while the black and white versions have a more abstract feel. On the basis of a purely personal preference, I feel that black and white street photography works best when the subject is “up close and personal” – where there seems to be little separation between the photographer and the subject. I think of the great examples of Garry Winogrand and more recently, those of Eamonn Doyle.
In this situation, I feel that colour rarely adds anything, but can certainly take away from the result due to distractions. On the other hand, I feel that sweeping streetscapes are better done in colour because the objective is presumably to give a feel for what the place is like rather that isolating one or more particular subjects.
On a technical note, the separation of the subject from background is sometimes easier with colour – it gives more options. A good example is #061 – the lady checking her phone with the shop window in the background. The separation is much better in the colour version and the thing which caught my eye – the poster in the window – is more pronounced in the colour version. Working on the Black & White Mix in Lightroom certainly improved the separation in this particular case (see below), but of course that doesn’t always work – it depends on the organisation of colours.
I prefer the black and white set, being aware that I’m probably biased from seeing a great deal of classic street photography. There’s a sense of drama, abstraction, of reality being taken out of context and put under the microscope. I can’t help shake the notion that the colour versions look like “snapshots’ and lack something. I feel that overall, colour doesn’t add much to this particular set, although I appreciate that people like Martin Parr may disagree.