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Top Tips for Black and White Street Photography in London

08 January 2016

If you’re visiting London during winter, you may be concerned that the lack of warm colours will make your pictures appear all ‘doom and gloom’. Fear not: we've put together 5 top tips for how you can make the most of these colder, darker days by using a black and white film/filter to experiment with street photography.

The images below were taken by our Artist in Residence, Ksenia Burnasheva, for her project, Black and White London, which uses a traditional form of street photography to capture London life and British heritage.


1. Be prepared - whatever the weather

Rain - Black And White London - Ksenia Burnasheva

Let’s face it, London weather can be pretty unpredictable at the best of times. Whether you’re using a digital, film or phone camera, you might want to take this into account and change your settings before you venture out and about. Pay attention to the light conditions: when using a digital or film camera on a sunny day, use a lower ISO with high shutter speeds; if it’s cloudy or rainy, use a higher ISO and lower shutter speeds. You could also consider taking a miniature tripod to make sure everything remains still and in focus. During particularly heavy downpours, no one would blame you for not wanting to walk around in the rain, so why not find a comfy spot indoors and observe from one of the city's many restaurant or café windows? Regardless, don’t shy away from taking shots in these conditions - some of the most interesting black and white photographs are taken in the rain or fog, as these elements add new textures and levels to your surroundings.

Ask yourself: How can I use the city's elements to my advantage?
Photograph location: Soho


2. Find your frame

Frame - Black And White London - Ksenia Burnasheva

Composition, Composition, Composition! This is going to be the most crucial aspect of your photograph - what do you want to take a picture of? London's many landmarks, buildings and streets offer countless exciting opportunities to experiment with different frames. Not only will you need to decide what you’re going to shoot, but also how you’re going to shoot it. Consider the relationship between the objects around you - including their shapes, lines and textures - and use these objects to tell a story. This is going to be particularly important in the absence of colour. Remember that the frame your audience sees will only be a small part of what you as the photographer can see. In this way, you can make your photograph more personal by focussing on different details which catch your attention and directing these to the viewer so that they understand your image. As the frame changes, so will the narrative, which means you’ll need to pay attention to what kind of camera you’re using and understand your lens. For example, taking a square picture on your phone for Instagram is going to be different from using a rectangular lens on your DSLR.

Ask yourself: What’s my narrative?
Photograph location: Barbican


3. Follow the light

Black And White London - Ksenia Burnasheva

This is one of the most interesting aspects of street photography and one of the most effective ways you can take advantage of shooting London in black and white. First things first: find the light! This is how you’re going to be able to play with the shadows and contrasts in your image. These tones, shades and even shapes will reveal a new, unseen version of the street to how it is usually perceived. A cloud of city fog or smoke can be particularly interesting, and especially dramatic if the light is behind it. Pay attention to reflections in shiny surfaces around London, such as puddles of water, street signs and mirrors, all of which add an exciting new dimension to your photograph.

Ask yourself: Am I making the most of the light?
Photograph location: Finsbury Park


4. Choose that “decisive moment”

The Decisive Moment - Black And White London - Ksenia Burnasheva

Timing is particularly important when it comes to street photography, and you need to find what is known as the “decisive moment”. This is the point at which everything in your view point comes together and your subject is at its peak. The whole idea behind street photography is that you are grabbing a real moment with your camera, which isn’t staged. You’re therefore waiting for that extra detail to come in which completes your image, whether that be someone walking by, the light changing, or discovering a new object you hadn’t noticed before. This often requires observing what’s happening around you for a little while; keeping an eye out for those random encounters and happy accidents which may or may not happen. Of course, in a bustling city like London, there's always something interesting to capture.

Ask yourself: How patient am I prepared to be?
Photograph location: Borough Market


5. Have some fun!

Funfair - Black And White London - Ksenia Burnasheva

Remember that whilst the nature of street photography and black and white images can often be associated with a dark or sombre tone, there’s no reason why your photographs can’t be just as vibrant as if they were full of colour - after all, London is a city full of character! In fact, often this medium works exceptionally well if you want to create something fun and even humorous, placing something in the photograph which catches the observer off guard thanks to a bizarre object or fortuitous moment. In a city as photographed as London, it can seem hard to take an original shot. Try to think outside the box and don’t be afraid to play with your vantage point. This involves changing the perspective of the objects and architecture in your photograph by experimenting with different angles. Place your camera on the floor, angle it up to the sky, or use your selfie stick in such a way so it makes you look like you’re taller than Big Ben… Most importantly; don’t be afraid to break the rules.

Ask yourself: Can I be more creative?
Photograph location: Greenwich


We hope you’ve enjoyed these top tips. Keep an eye out for more posts where we’ll share other techniques about how to take great pictures of our beautiful capital!

Don’t be shy! Share your own London photos with us on social media:

Twitter: @GrangeHotels
Instagram: @GrangeHotels

And, if you’re interested in learning more about street photography, Ksenia recommends taking a look at the works of Vivian Maier, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa.