Long before YouTube and Instagram, photojournalists spearheaded the street photography movement. With only black and white film at their disposal, they leveraged colorless elements to help others understand their subjects through light, contrast, texture, and composition.

Like these early journalists, modern-day street photographers aim to accurately capture their surroundings in the context of whatever time and place they’re shooting. Great street photography captures both the significant and the simple, and can be taken anywhere people are found going about their lives.

Here are a few tips to up your own black and white street photography game.


It can be difficult for us to envision the world in black and white. To make it easier, use a camera that allows you to preview the final image in black and white on the camera screen or electronic viewfinder before you snap the shot. As you’re taking photos, keep previewing the shot to determine if you’ve captured light, contrast, texture, and composition – or if you need to adjust.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Jair Hernandez Villarreal | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Lens

Pro tip: Shoot in RAW If you can’t decide whether you want your final image to be in black and white or in color, shooting in RAW + JPEG will give you more flexibility. This camera setting will save two versions of the image file to your memory card. The JPEG will be saved in black and white, while the RAW file will preserve all color information from the image file, making it possible to apply different artistic effects or filters later on.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Jair Hernandez Villarreal | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Lens


Remember that you’ll have to swap light and shadows where color creates depth and dimension, so make sure that your lights aren’t too bright and your shadows aren’t too dark. Consider hitting the streets on an overcast day, which will soften whites and blacks, and allow for more dimension and gradient. Without color, your photo can appear two dimensional, but by paying attention to shadows, you can maintain depth of field.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Francesca Maso | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens


As you can’t compose your photo for color, look for shapes, tones and textures – these will be your points of interest. Grab attention by shooting things like curly hair, brick walls, lace tablecloths, or distinguished wrinkles. While street photography doesn’t need to include people, it’s a great way to add emotion, energy, and context for the environment.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Vincent Douglass | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 Lens


In the evening, long exposure street photography looks dynamic in black and white. Moving vehicles, in particular, make interesting streaks of light across the frame. The easiest way to capture this effect is to use a camera with live composite, which automatically stacks the frames into one image as you’re shooting. Be sure to use a tripod as you can shoot several minutes’ worth of footage at a time so you need your camera steady. It’s also handy to angle your camera to capture sharp lines from buildings and bridges.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Gerard D. Santiago | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 Lens


Black and white photography lends itself to dimly-lit street scenes. Shooting with a high ISO will make your camera more sensitive to light and less prone to blur. But, high ISO values also mean noisier photos. However, the noise in images looks particularly artistic in black and white, so the trade-off is usually worth it for street photography.

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Osteria Le Streghe | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Lens

Now that you have the tools to capture the world without color, head to your hometown’s Main Street, local farmers’ market, or urban shopping center. Look for odd gestures, quirky fashions, and unique lines. Let them guide you, and your photos of the everyday ordinary will be anything but. The same applies when you’re exploring a new city. Do some research ahead of time, particularly for off-the-beaten-track recommendations that allow you to capture the streets authentically. You’ll be capturing an insight, just as the photojournalists did before you.