It feels strange to be watching a COOPH video that actually has a presenter talking to the camera, but that’s exactly what we have here. COOPH approached London-based street photographer Alan Schaller. You might remember Alan from one of SmugMug films’ features last year. This time around, he’s offering up seven tips for shooting more effective black and white street photography.
1. Go out and limit yourself to just shooting black and white on purpose
Alan suggests spending a month just shooting in black and white in order to help you see the world in black and white more easily. Colours don’t always have the effect we might expect when shooting black and white. Making yourself shoot black and white regularly helps you to be able to see how those colours will appear to the camera. Then when you go out to capture the world, you’ll be armed with more knowledge.
2. Focus on what makes black & white interesting
The things that make colour images interesting aren’t the same as those that make black and white photography interesting. With black and white, what makes things interesting is form and contrast. As you can’t rely on different colours to stand out from each other, you’re only really looking at the contrast, tones of brightness and details in the shots.
3. Adapt to your light situation
Be realistic in your expectations with the lighting situation that’s available. While we all love those contrasty black and whites, on a dull day, the world isn’t very contrasty. So, we often come home disappointed with what we get. Even on a dull day, though, there are some fantastic scenes and contrasts to be found that will work very well in black and white if you learn how to spot them.
4. Make good use of your environment
Don’t just walk around pointing your cameras straight at people. Consider the environment. Look for reflections off windows, archways in buildings, leading lines on bridges and paths. Even the designs of the buildings in the background can lead to some great imagery when somebody wearing the right outfit gets into the right position just as you hit the shutter.
5. Capture a good range of contrast
Look for scenes of high contrast. In a lot of photography, our eyes are generally drawn to the brightest thing in the scene. We can use this to our advantage to highlight our subjects in a way that makes them almost leap out from the image and grab our attention.
6. Change your perspective
This is a common piece of advice for many forms of photography. Don’t just stand there, raise the camera up to your eye and take a shot. Consider trying to get up high, or down low to get your shot in order to present a different take on the world. A dog’s eye view of a city can often be much more appealing than a human’s.
7. Edit Wisely
Let your images define the edit, not the other way around. Don’t try to force an image into having a certain look if it’s not going to work. See your post processing as a way to enhance what’s already there, not to create something that doesn’t exist.
What are your top black & white street photography tips?
For me, my top black and white street photography tip is to go shoot it all on Ilford FP4+ film and put a yellow-green filter on the end of your lens. But if digital’s your thing for street photography, then I got nothin’.