How to Shoot Color Street Photography Effectively

This guide will help you to learn How to Shoot Color Street Photography. More people than ever are choosing to shoot black and white street photography. This is certainly the fashion right now and I also enjoy the shooting black and white occasionally. But is there an argument for shooting Color Street Photography? What can color add to our Street Photos? This article explores those questions and looks at the how and why of shooting color in Street Photography.

A mistake that many people make is they shoot in color but don’t use color. What I mean by that is they don’t incorporate color into their images. They shoot color in a passive manner, i.e., they just happen to be shooting in color rather than actively choosing this form.

How can we really make color work in our street photos? Here are some tips and guidance to help you improve your color street photography…

Understand Color Theory In Photography

If you are unsure where to start with color in photography then I recommend Color Theory. Color is one of the key elements of photography, along with light and composition. It is important that you have at least a basic understanding of how Color Theory in Photography works. Here are two key schemes to get you started:

Complimentary Colors

Complimentary Colors Shenzhen China

These appear on the opposite side of the wheel. For example, orange is complimentary to blue (as well as red depending on the tone), purple is complimentary to yellow.

Color Wheel Complimentary
Complimentary Color Wheel

Complimentary colors will add interest and vibrancy to your pictures. When you learn to look out for them you will find they appear on the street quite often. A good place to start with Color Theory in Photography is to look for complimentary colors on the street and then add a subject to the scene.

Although it helped me to learn about how to operate a full frame camera I didn’t enjoy taking it out with me every day because it was heavy. This meant I wasn’t shooting as often as I should have been which negatively affected my ability to learn photography.

Split Complimentary Colors

Split Complimentary Color Wheel

This is where you have two colors from one side of the wheel and the complimentary color from the other side. As shown you can apply the split triangle to any part of the color wheel and these are the split complimentary colors.

Again this adds vibrancy and pop to your images. This one is a little harder to master but your images will really stand out when you use this effectively.

Other color schemes include; Analogous (three next to each other, often used in Landscape Photography), Triadic, and Monochromatic.

I’m not the most experienced photographer so it is hard for me to remember all the schemes as I go round shooting. I therefore just try to remember three that are useful to me. Also, to help myself, I have a screen shot of a color wheel on my phone. I recommend this as a quick and easy way to become more familiar with Color Theory in Photography.

Use Clearly defined colors – separated by lines

You will notice a lot of images around where the photographer has used color but the image has almost been washed out by too many colors blended together.

A better method is to use clearly separated colors that are defined in their own space. This is more effective in making the colors stand out and in turn makes the image more appealing to look at. In addition this method will add contrast and vibrancy to your image as each color plays of the others. This method works particularly well with strong bold colors that stand out.

A really cool way that this has been done effectively by past masters is to have the colors appear in shapes. For example, you may have a background wall that includes a blue diamond, the stairs appear like green rectangles, and so on.

I recently took this picture. Its not the greatest in the world but hopefully labels the point on how this method works.

For a masters example of this method check out this image by Dominic Papa.

Make Color The Subject

In terms of color there are three types of images. Firstly, there are those images where no thought whatsoever has been given to the color in the image. Sometimes the image will be ruined by the color in it when this is the case. For example, you may have a very nice composition or subject matter, but there is a distracting red object at the back which draws the viewers attention.

Secondly, there are those images where color is a compositional element of the image. For example, something interesting is happening with the subject matter, and the color around the image supports the interesting shot. There are some exceptional images where this is the case.

Finally, there are images like those above where the color is the subject. This can be achieved in a number of different ways. You can have a juxtaposition (contrast) of colors, you can have a range of colors that are next to each other on a color wheel, or you can have a range of colors which are opposite to each other on a color wheel.

By shooting images where color is the subject over a period of time it well improve your use of color in your photography. When you are shooting with color as your primary subject it forces you to think about how you are using it. Then you can utilize color to enhance your color street photography. This will help you to understand how color works in photography and over time you will be able to shoot better quality color based photos with less thought.

Use Neutral colours in photography effectively

Orange on Neutral
The old town in Lijiang China
Red on Neutral

Neutral colors in photography can be considered as opposite to bold colors. If you think of saturated reds and oranges these are bold colors that demand our attention. Think of neutral colors as earthy tones such as sand, water, or dried up greens or yellows. Neutral colors in photography can work well to provide balance, or as a secondary element.

These colors almost act as a blank canvas for you to work with. With this in mind you can put another color onto the neutral tone and that color will pop out in the image. Neutral colors in photography can work on their own or with a strong color contrasting them.

Use Color to Portray Mood

Within photography certain colors portray mood to our audience, and the same is applicable to street photography. Use the following to guide you when you want to portray a certain mood or emotion to the viewer:

Warm Color Tone in Photography

Red: Is the color of anger, warmth and passion. Think about warning street signs, roses, hearts, and the color of love.

Orange: Fun, energy, and enthusiasm

Yellow: Warmth, energy, happiness. Think about the sun, the warm tones you get in the early morning or late afternoon.

Alone and dusk dark

Cool Color Tone in Photography

Blue: Calm and tranquility. Think of the ocean or the blue sky.

Green: Nature and harmony. Think of the grass or the trees blowing.

So use the correct color tone in your photography to portray an emotion or mood within the image. The best thing is to have some fun with this and experiment with the technique. Soon you will become more effective at using color tone in photography.

Equipment

I use a Fujifilm X100F for most of my street photography and an X-T3 for my general photography. One of things I love most about Fujifilm cameras are the color profiles. I don’t know of any other camera systems that can match Fujifilm when it comes to color. My favorite color profiles are:

Classic chrome (Cc) – retro, street, unsaturated, magazine style documentary

Provia (STD) – suitable for all tasks, good for blues and yellows

Velvia (V) – enhances colors and contrast, good for oranges and sunsets

Summary

In concluding this article we can say the best way to get started with shooting color effectively is to shoot for color. By that I mean make color the theme of your street photography for a while and experiment with what kind of images you can produce.

Becoming familiar with the color wheel is an important step to mastering color street photography. Become familiar with some of the themes and use them in your street photography. Look at the methods discussed in this article and produce your own images based on these. Then integrate what you learn into all you photography.

For more inspiration Saul Leiter was one of my favorite users of color in street photography. This is a nice article about him and includes some of his works.

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