Most often we think of cityscapes and all their colorful glory during golden hour and blue hour. While this is ideal and a beautiful way to capture our cities, let’s not overlook the qualities black & white can bring to our cityscape shots.
In fact, there are a number of situations where black & white trumps color…overcast days, gloomy or foggy weather, stark mid-day light. All examples of situations where color isn’t really going to add anything to your images and the mood and lines of the city are highlighted through black & white processing.
Below, both overcast days with flat, uninteresting skies. The black and white processing allows the focus to be on other interesting elements in the image. For the left, the framing of the New York City skyline through this bridge at Hunter’s Point. On the right, the Chicago skyline reflecting in the marble bench in the foreground, plus the added interest of the raindrops.
Bad weather, whether rain, fog or snow often keeps photographers from getting out there and shooting. It’s the perfect chance to get a unique and fleeting take on the city. In this first example, the fog was coming in low and heavy over Chicago from the lakefront. Getting up to the observatory at the Hancock Building offered a great vantage point. The black & white processing creates high drama, something that you can’t really achieve in the color version.
Also from the Hancock building, though the Signature Lounge because I was unsure if this would pay off, so why not grab a drink or lunch for the view 😉 But, it did work out, resulting in this snowglobe-like effect. Something that would not be as effective in color as it’d just look drab.
Photographing foggy weather from ground level this time, as well as some long exposure. This can be achieved simply by the sheer fact that the light is not very bright, as seen here. Of course, a tripod is a must with longer exposures like this. Nice leading lines pulling you into the disappearing city.
But it can also be exaggerated through use of neutral-density filters, think sunglasses for your lens, which slows down your shutter to achieve much longer exposure times. Always great when using on water to achieve this glassy effect.
The movement going from the dock to the reflections, back to the shore and into the disappearing city is emphasized by the strength in these lines and triangles which are much more prevalent because of the black & white processing.
Mid-day light is thought to be another less-than-ideal time to shoot cityscapes but it can still work quite well. See the difference below of the Chicago skyline from Grant Park with the Buckingham Fountain. So much more drama with the black & white version.
Now, a few more comparisons between color and black & white. Both versions work equally as well, but you’ll see in the color versions you focus so much more on this than the strength in the lines, patterns and drama of the city.
While in some cases both color and black & white work, the reminder is to not overlook black & white as an option. The result is just different. It’s also something that can be used to your advantage during less-than-ideal weather or time-of-day circumstances.
We look forward to seeing your versions, so please be sure to share with us in our Facebook group, Architecture Photography Unfolded or on our Instagram page. And for the month of September be sure to #bwcityunfolded or @photographyunfolded when sharing on Instagram for a chance to be featured in our stories and our feed for #FeatureFriday.