Black and White Street Photography

Ever since I began photographing, 15 years ago, my street photography has always been black and white. As an element that tends to stand out, students of my workshops most commonly ask the reason for this choice.

My response usually starts with "because I ran out of colours 😃"

It sounds like a joke and it is, up to a point. Perhaps not many people know that in my day-to-day work I am primarily a portrait photographer, who specialises in advertising photography.

Advertising photography is a branch of photography entailing shots where every single particular is constructed. Layouts are decided or implemented with art directors of large advertising companies and what I am often asked for is great attention to detail and precision in each aspect of production. As you can imagine, 99% of the time it will be colour photography.

Germany - Berlin, 2015

So there you have it, one of the main reasons my street photography is solely black and white is because I love monochromatic photography very much, and street photography is a way for me to release my passion.

The second reason is tied into the cultural references that have influenced my formation. As many other photographers, I prepared by studying street photographs of classic authors such as Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and lately the great Vivian Maier.

To my mind, therefore, street photography is almost always in black and white. This is evident in my photographic sessions, where I have developed the ability to focus on those elements that show their greater potential in black and white, and the relationship between them.

Morocco - Essaouira, 2016

People, architectures, as well as moving or static subjects, take on visual and narrative power in dark and light elements that converse with each other through the powerful tool of photo framing.

Mine is not a rejection of colour, rather an extreme love for black and white. It is a matter of disposition and personal taste.

Of course, when I come across beautiful colour street photography I am fascinated. Authors like Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Fred Herzog, Jeff Mermelstein, Ernst Haas or Matt Stuart convey a number of emotions and contents through their images, aided by their careful use of colour, that leave me breathless.

To me, black and white means synthesis, simplicity, minimalism and visual precision. This allows me to create images that seem, by their very nature, to be less affected by the passing of time.

Black and white also allows me to focus less on the relationship between the colours that are on the frame and more on the elements that make up the essence of the scene.

Italy - Rome, 2015

Another aspect of black and white that is often underestimated and which I believe deserves more attention is that there isn’t just one type of black and white. The acceptation of the term as a singular might give the wrong idea to many young photographers: if you carefully think about it, black and white photos can be very different, so that rather than black and white we should call them blacks and whites.

Depending on how we handle the contrasts, the grain or the relationship between high and low lighting, we can develop a great number of truly diverse expressive modes.

I never settled on just any type of black and white for this reason. Throughout the years, in my dark room first and in Photoshop later, I spent a long time developing a method and a number of techniques that allowed me to create my very own digital black and white.

Japan - Tokyo, 2016

My path was paved with attempts and mistakes as well great satisfaction. One of the most important causes for the latter was working at the black and white and post-production of a corporate project and a book for what I believe to be one of the greatest war photographers of all times, whose black and white has made history: James Nachtwey.

Working for him was an incredible experience, which taught me the level of care and thoroughness a master such as him puts into for his photographs.

Many years have now gone by since that experience, years during which I have been perfecting my black and white. Now, through a number of arrangements and presets, I can reach 90% of the result I seek in just a few minutes.

Following that, every photograph tells its own story so I need to work on every single shot based on what the contents of the image are. In time I learnt to manage workflows in Lightroom as well as Photoshop, although I still tend to prefer the latter.

Naturally, I always take raw shots, my Leica cameras are always set on RAW+JPG with a preview and the JPG generation in black and white so as to have a monochromatic preview of what I am shooting.

I never use the Jpg files generated by my machine, but they nevertheless remain an important reference for the development of the Raw files.

United States - Las Vegas, 2014

The DNG files of my Leica contain so much information and dynamic range that I find it difficult to justify using the JPG files generated by the camera.

Don’t get me wrong, shooting Raw doesn’t mean shooting without carefully considering exposition. For this reason during my photographic sessions I try to obtain the best possible exposition, paying particular attention to not losing highlight information.

Shooting a raw file that is over or under exposed means losing a lot of the potential of that format. And what you lose in dynamic range and information for the chiaroscuros will show in the prints of your black and white photographs.

Think about all those days spent searching for the perfect shot. To end up settling for the mediocre version of the camera-generated files seems like a crying shame. 😃

India, Mumbai, 2013