Typically a big city is associated with, as the song goes, bright lights. The streaking read taillights of countless cars, flashing traffic lights, glistening skyscrapers glowing from within. At night a city truly comes alive with saturated colors radiating against the inky mantle of darkness. When we think of images of skylines or cities, we think of colors – reds, yellows, fluorescent greens and muted orange.
Forgoing color and opting for black and white imagery, however, can bring a more austere and timeless quality to city photography day or night. Just like portraits of people have more depth and character when shot properly in black and white, the same can be said of shooting a city. Architecture for example, begs to be portrayed with the artist’s vision in mind just as if it was drawn on paper with a charcoal pencil, scraped in blacks and grays onto the fields of white straight from the imagination. The Bromo Seltzer Tower or the iconic Domino Sugar sign captured in black and white provide a uniquely dramatic image. Use overcast or stormy skies to add depth to the capture.
Monuments and sculptures that riddle a city are the same. Moving in to capture detail brings forth not only easily missed features, but raw emotion. Take for example, the Baltimore Holocaust Memorial. On it’s own, from a distance, the Memorial reminds us of unspeakable crimes against humanity. Some walk past not paying attention, some walk past avoiding the grief, but for those who move in close and really take in the site the emotion is palpable. To capture this detail in a single photo can be daunting, but not impossible; focus on detail and choose black and white instead of color to make an enduring capture.
Weather in a city is another opportunity for photography. The recent snowstorms were a great opportunity for photography. The streets of Baltimore blanketed in white, devoid of cars or pedestrians, sat in silence. A stark contrast to every notion of a city – no noise, no traffic, no people on the sidewalks. The city sleeps. The clamor retreats into buildings and garages and becomes as quiet as the falling snow.
Most mobile devices have options for either taking or converting an image into black and white. Third party apps can also convert color images into black and white while allowing subtle or dramatic effects. While not all images work in black and white, concentrate on contrast, shadows, time of day and the interplay of light (both natural and artificial) to bring forth a new view of Charm City.