TOP 10 TIPS FOR BLACK & WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE CITY
I have been living in Amsterdam for over 11 years and the city never fails to amaze me. While I love its dreamy atmosphere during snowfall the most, Amsterdam offers plenty of locations that couldn’t differ more from each other - you can be stunned by its modern architecture, while finding yourself walking in a Grimm fairy tale just a couple of streets down the road. I collected a few tips that I keep in mind when I get lost in the streets of this dynamic, yet romantic city and while my language is mainly visual, I hope you’ll find them useful, yourself.
1. SWITCH YOUR BRAIN TO MONOCHROME
Every time I wander around the streets of Amsterdam holding my camera, I see in black and white. While a shouting red sign looks exciting in front of a vivid, orange billboard, the lack of contrast will probably disappoint you in monochrome. You can always take advantage of technology and change your camera’s settings to view your image in BW…back in the days when I started off with analog, I used black and white film and only after spending hours in my tiny bathroom lab could I see the result. Nowadays, I shoot in RAW, which makes editing easier.
2. MAKE HARD LIGHT WORK FOR YOU
Shooting in unforgiving, hard daylight is usually avoided by most landscape and portrait photographers, yet it invites us, street photographers to come out and play. The very same light that cruelly burns out most colours can work miracles when shooting monochrome. Hard light creates sharp shadows and contrast. Dynamic range is harder to control on film, however the sensors of your digital camera assists you with this issue, especially if you manually set the exposure metering method.
Take your time to compose and most of all, enjoy this process. Play with the prospective, shapes and forms, keeping some basic guidelines in mind: symmetry, depth, the rule of thirds, leading lines, just to mention a few…then again, rules are meant to be broken and life is about experimenting, so if you decide to ignore those “rules”, just do so consciously, while composing in your viewfinder. I like to play by the rules, though, as I find they work more often than not…
4. REMAIN FRIENDLY & UNOBTRUSIVE
Remember, you’re on a street with many other people, so a smile goes a long way - always remain friendly. In many cases, people will mind you less and you can even start interesting conversations to gain insight of someone’s life, all of a sudden having a great story for your image. The below photo is a good example: I was wandering around and smiled at a lady, who smiled back and asked if I wanted to photograph something really interesting...I immediately said yes, of course and she pointed at a small street, saying there was a gentleman walking his 10 dogs at once..
5. GET LOST!
Don’t be afraid to get lost. Finding yourself in places you haven’t seen before might be the best thing can happen to you during your walks, I discovered plenty of completely hidden places in Amsterdam, allowing my feet to take me wherever they wanted to.
6. LOOK FOR PATTERNS AND TEXTURE
Repetitions work well in compositions - anything may work, similar buildings next to each other, bricks, windows, faces, bikes, trees, etc. There are geometric shapes everywhere around us, triangles, rectangles, circles, use them. If you break those repetitions, you can create tension in your image as well.
7. USE REFLECTIONS
In my imagination, reflections open a window to a parallel universe: neatly aligned lines get distorted, precise geometric shapes lose their seriousness and reality transforms. I use reflections as a tool to conflict reality with fantasy.
8. ADD DEPTH TO YOUR PHOTO
Positioning a subject that’s in the foreground and making it sharper than the background brings the viewer’s attention to the subject itself by adding depth to your photo. Large aperture blurs the background, giving you a tool to navigate your viewers’ focus.
9. GO OUTSIDE DURING EVENTS
Tell a story by showing the atmosphere at the location you’re shooting at. The best way to create historic images is by going outside during an event. When canals froze in Amsterdam this year, I immediately grabbed my camera and ran to take pictures of the excited, happy people enjoying such rare weather conditions.
10. ENJOY YOURSELF!
This one is easy - enjoy your time taking photos! After all, it is your passion, right?