street photography

Black and White or Color?

Coke or Pepsi? Fritos or Doritos? If the answer was only that simple. But in some ways, it is. Personal preference plays into the decision. More importantly, how do you see the scene, how do you interpret the image, does color enhance or detract from the message you want to convey? These questions will help you decide, and only you can determine the outcome. Crowdsourcing for answers means you don't know, and if you don't, how can anyone else, it's your photograph.

Learn to see in both color and black and white. Learn to understand the difference between color harmony and visual harmony. How do you learn? Practice, practice and more practice. And study. Lot's of study.

Analyze the color masters and how they work, how they see. People like Joel Meyerowitz, Sam Able, Jay Maisel, William Albert Allard, and Alex Webb. Look deep at the black and white photographers; Matt Black, Ralph Gibson, Jacob Aue Sobol, Bill Brandt, Michael Kenna, and of course, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Compare and contrast their styles and vision. See how they compose, how they use tone, light, and shadow. 

I came upon this scene at a traffic light. As always, my camera was at the ready in the center console. All I need to do was frame the photo and wait for the moment to develop. What I wanted to capture was already clearly formed in my mind's eye, and thankfully it occurred before my light turned green. 

From the instant I spotted the scene I knew it would be a black and white photo. I saw the shadows and highlights and colors dancing in shades of black, white and greys. The yellow-greenish tint to the building and the red bus both turned neutral in my vision of a monochrome image. Color, in this case, would be distracting, confusing even, pulling attention away from the subject, and the story. Is the scene as a color photograph terrible? No. But in my vision, the black and white image is stronger. The monochrome tones and design elements graphically harmonize while in color they are confusing to the eye.

Defining your vision and style is a journey of many steps, and only you can walk the path.  

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Interpretation and dissection of an image

In my photography, I often strike a balance, black and white, yin and yang, positive space and negative. Intricate graphic elements to enhance the overall design of the image. I use a lot of lines and spirals and frame dissections to intensify a sense of movement, even when it does not exists due to stationary subjects or high shutter speed to stop the action. It's the feeling I'm after, and I'll use every tool in my belt to achieve the desired result. 

For me, I do not want to see a picture; I need to feel it. Does it hit me on a visceral level? Does it envoke a response? Is it calming or jarring? Is there a third effect in action?

In this photograph, "Cars," a lot is going on and not much at all. It's almost Seinfeld-ish. An image interpreted in a variety of ways but is about nothing. Two cars, going down the road, photographed thru a highway fence. That's it. Or is it? 

Art interpretation is rarely that easy. 

Compositionally, you have the conflict between black and white. There's a separation of the scene by the pattered fence. The horizontals and slight diagonal lines move through the image but are blocked on one side by the heavy weight of concrete and shadow which frames the image on three sides. And then there's the support for the bridge, the linchpin of the photograph. 

Beyond the dynamic design of the image, either further reach of artistic explanation or interpretation is on the viewer. For me, it was an iPhone snap out the window while stopped in traffic. Did I see the graphic design? Of course, I saw it, that's why I made the picture with the only device within quick reach. It was one and done. The light turned green, and I drove on. Do I see more in the picture? Maybe. Maybe not. How about you?

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