Colour Street Photography

More than in any other genre of photography, street photography seems to demand purity codes, like a religious cult or a hockey team. You can’t be a real street photographer unless you shoot with a Rangefinder, or a Leica, or only shoot “unposed” subjects. There’s even a UK-based web site that sells “official” streettog T-shirts. But perhaps the most persistent “rule” of street photography is that it display in black and white (ideally shot with black and white film, since digital post-processing taints the craft). I don’t know where this comes from. Joel Meyerowitz has been shooting street in colour since the ’60’s. Funny how I’ve heard of him, but never any of the rule-touting purists.


Sometimes I take a shot and realize that colour is the whole point of the image. For example: the image above. A man in red sweat pants and plaid shirt crosses Yonge Street carrying his McDonald’s breakfast in one hand and pulling a St. Bernard with the other. Conversion to black & white would eliminate something vital to this image.


The second example is a shot looking east along King St. at Bay — the financial heart of the country. A pipe has burst and steaming water pools along the curb. I draw my focus to the orange pylon while people stream across the road in the background. Again, the photo would somehow be diminished without the pylon’s orange colour in the foreground.


Finally, a shot by the Church of the Holy Trinity behind Toronto’s Eaton Centre. A woman helps a man light his cigarette while an unlit cigarette sits on her lips. I tried this in black & white with all kinds of filters, graininess, & contrast presets, but nothing worked as well as simply presenting it in its original colour. When I shot this, it was overcast. I think that made the brick of the church and the skin tones more saturated, warmer. This one deserves colour.

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