Take to the streets for black & white magic

Practical Photography (UK) - - Mono Masterclass -

IF THERE’S ONE AREA OF pho­tog­ra­phy that’s syn­ony­mous with black & white it is the arena of street and re­portage. There’s ob­vi­ously a lot of his­tory be­hind this – when the very idea of tak­ing can­did pic­tures of peo­ple in pub­lic first be­came a recog­nised art­form, colour pho­tog­ra­phy was still in its in­fancy and not prac­ti­cal for us­ing in the fast-paced ‘shoot and run’ arena in­hab­ited by the likes of Henri CartierBres­son, Weegee and Bras­saï. As a re­sult, any con­tem­po­rary pho­tog­ra­pher who wants to tap into the his­tory of street pho­tog­ra­phy will do well to con­sider a monochrome ap­proach.

This his­tor­i­cal aes­thetic ex­tends to the more se­ri­ous medium of re­portage pho­tog­ra­phy, whether as a doc­u­men­tary tool or much of the war pho­tog­ra­phy pro­duced in the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tury. Pho­tog­ra­phers who had to work ‘out in the field’ would favour black & white film for its abil­ity to be pushed to high ISO rat­ings and the com­par­a­tive ease with which it could be pro­cessed and printed even when the near­est lab might be hun­dreds, or even thou­sands, of miles away.

A clut­ter-free vi­sion

The mod­ern dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­pher isn’t con­strained by the tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions of film, so what’s the en­dur­ing al­lure of mono for the 21st cen­tury street shooter, be­yond the de­sire to hark back to the past? That his­tor­i­cal link to the pi­o­neers of this style of pho­tog­ra­phy shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated, but there’s cer­tainly more to mono’s street ap­peal than sim­ple nos­tal­gia.

One of the great­est ad­van­tages that black & white has for street pho­tog­ra­phers is its abil­ity to strip away all of the dis­tract­ing colour that over­whelms the mod­ern cityscape and present a vista that is paired down

to its bare bones of light, com­po­si­tion and mo­ment – the holy tri­umvi­rate of street pho­tog­ra­phy. Towns and cities are swamped by a riot of colour these days and mod­ern cloth­ing is of­ten far more gar­ish than that worn 50-60 years ago, but with a monochrome treat­ment this ceases to be an is­sue.

Look for line and light

While street pho­tog­ra­phy can be best de­fined by can­did im­ages of peo­ple, like every area of pho­tog­ra­phy it re­quires sev­eral el­e­ments to make a great shot.

Those de­ci­sive mo­ments are fleet­ing and rely on a cer­tain de­gree of luck, as well as a well-trained eye, but some good street shots can still present them­selves even when the sub­jects refuse to play ball, and black & white can help out enor­mously here.

The graph­i­cal na­ture of mono suits the streets per­fectly, where every line and change of tone be­comes a tool with which to lead the viewer’s eye through the shot. And as the ur­ban land­scape abounds with these graphic el­e­ments it’s a mono match of sheer per­fec­tion.

Fi­nally, the way that black & white em­pha­sises the gulf be­tween light and shade works per­fectly in street scenes, so al­ways stay crit­i­cally aware of the light around you as it will be a pow­er­ful com­po­si­tional tool.

An em­pha­sis on graph­i­cal lines and light plus a paired-down aes­thetic make monochrome per­fect for street pho­tog­ra­phy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.