When I first started out in photography, I had my fathers Praktika and a 50mm lens. I shot black and white film mostly but as I was a student, I didn’t do much film photography and after a while stopped photography altogether. When I bought my first digital camera (a Canon EOS 400D), I shot family and holiday snapshots in colour. I started doing more and more photography in different genres : landscapes, long exposures, macro, portraits, high-speed, street… I think I have tried almost everything! Street photography has been growing on me since 2012, slowly but surely. I haven’t really consciously thought about it really but all my street photography has always been in black and white.
My inspiration has come from the French photographers Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Sabine Weiss… all who photographed in black and white and often for a good reason!
As I spend time on the internet, I realise that a lot of street photographers use colour for their work but at the same time, that the colour of my own photographs isn’t as compelling or as powerful.
I have put a lot of time and effort into pre-visualising my photos, trying to see the light and the contrasts at the same time as imagining the photo I am about to take, looking at the people around me and trying to predict where they will be and what they will do… Phew! Exhausting!
I need to add to all that to be aware of the colours : contrasts between colours, complimentary colours… Even so, when I get in front of my computer and I look at my images, the colours are flat and rather lifeless. Raw files tend to be that way, but I have enough practice now to get a decent black and white image. I know where to go in the software, what to do. I have used Lightroom and now use ON1 photo raw quite a lot and in all honesty, the adjustments are the same, the methods are the same.
To come back to colour, a good starting point seems to be colour grading. There are a lot of useful videos on YouTube that explain what it is and how to do it. Any decent software with a curves adjustment is enough. By shifting separately the red, green and blue curves, it is possible to make subtle changes to the hues in the shadows and highlights that completely change the way the photo looks. I’m not saying that it is enough but it is a start. I have tried and consequently excluded using presets or LUTs to change the colours because I don’t feel I have much control on what I am doing and I don’t think I will learn much.
In the photos in this post, I have followed this method. I have also masked out sometimes parts of the photos to keep the original colours and this can make some areas pop!
So which do you prefer : the colour version or the b&w version?
It is a path to explore … the only way is forwards!