How to Master Black and White Street Photography


Dear friend,

If you want to master black and white street photography for yourself, this is the advice I would give you (advice I wish I could have given myself):


Download ZIP: Black and White Street Photography – ERIC KIM

ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY4ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY3ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY1eric kim abstract photography13eric kim abstract photography3dark skies over tokyo - eric kim11dark skies over tokyo - eric kim10dark skies over tokyo - eric kim9dark skies over tokyo - eric kim8dark skies over tokyo - eric kim7dark skies over tokyo - eric kim6dark skies over tokyo - eric kim5dark skies over tokyo - eric kim4dark skies over tokyo - eric kim3

dark skies over tokyo - eric kim2

Study the master black and white street photographers of history

First of all, you gotta know your history. I would recommend studying these black and white street photographers:

  1. Henri Cartier-Bresson
  2. Andre Kertesz
  3. Garry Winogrand
  4. Sergio Larrain
  5. Rene Burri

Gritty black and white street photographers

And to study more gritty black and white (high contrast) aesthetics, I recommend:

  1. William Klein
  2. Daido Moriyama
  3. Shomei Tomatsu
  4. Anders Petersen
  5. Jacob aue Sobol
  6. Josh White
  7. Junku Nishimura

Learn from the masters

My suggestion when studying these master black and white street photographers:

  1. Study their compositions: How do they simplify their scenes, and keep it minimal, yet beautiful and elegant?
  2. What mood are in their photos? Do you see their soul in their photos? Is their outlook on life optimistic or pessimistic?
  3. Could you shoot photos like them? If so, can you do it better than them?

Settings for black and white street photography

When you’re shooting on the streets, I recommend shooting in RAW, and processing your photos into black and white afterwards. Why? Because with the ERIC KIM MONOCHROME preset for Lightroom, I think I have perfected the ‘black and white film look’ to digital files. So at this point, I would prefer to shoot monochrome in digital, than using film.

When shooting black and white street photography, the grittier, the better. Keep your ISO high (like 1600 or 3200, or even 6400 if it gets really dark). You can just shoot in ‘p’ (program mode), or if you’re using aperture-priority, keep it at f/8 (gives you an optimal depth-of-field).

What to be conscious of when shooting black and white street photography

The biggest suggestion I have when shooting black and white street photography is this:

Strive to simplify the scene.

You can simplify the scene by getting closer to your subject, by positioning yourself to simplify the background, or you can even use a flash to separate the subject from the background.

And I recommend when you’re shooting on the streets: shoot a lot. You never know when you will get a good photo or not. The best is to keep taking little risks when shooting on the streets, and the more little risks you take, the more likely you are to make a good photo.

Remember, every time you click the shutter, you are just taking a small chance. A small risk. It is better to take 1,000 photos in a day, and then go home and choose 1 good photo, than to only shoot 10 photos in a day, and you probably won’t have any good photos.


I prefer the gritty, high contrast, black and white aesthetic. Why? To me, I love the grit, soul, and emotion which comes through a rougher aesthetic. Of course, this is just my personal taste: You must discover what aesthetic/taste you prefer for your own black and white photos.

There is no “correct” aesthetic in black and white. Avoid nerdy stuff like histograms and nonsense like that. When you’re post-processing your black and white photos, process them according to your own taste.

For a starter kit, download free ERIC KIM MONOCHROME preset for Lightroom, and apply them to your own RAW photos (also see my free ERIC KIM LIGHTROOM WORKFLOW PDF Visualization).

Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.

If you shoot film, shoot Kodak Trix 400, and push it to 1600. More information in FILM NOTES.

Principle 1: Keep it simple

eric kim tattoo black and white coffee arm

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The first principle in black and white street photography is this: keep it simple, minimal, and elegant.

Essentially you want to have clear separation/contrast between your subject and the background. This concept is also known as “figure to ground” (figure is your subject, ground is your background).

A quick test to know whether your black and white photos are simple enough: use “Gaussian blur” to your black and white photos in Photoshop, and see if you can still see good separation between your subject and the background. Also, you can squint your eyes, or take off your glasses when inspecting your photos. Or look at your black and white photos as small thumbnails, to determine whether they are simple enough.

Principle 2: Shoot with your heart and soul


The second principle is when you’re shooting black and white street photography, shoot with all of your heart and soul.

The purpose of photography isn’t to make pretty photos; the purpose is to communicate your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and soul into your photos. Black and white is a good aesthetic for this.

In the past, black and white was the only medium. Now we have a choice. Generally I believe that black and white is good for capturing feelings of loss, nostalgia, the past, or sentimental/emotional feelings. However, that’s not always the case. You can also use black and white to capture optimism, joy, and beauty.

When you’re shooting photos, identify scenes which you find personally meaningful to you. When you photograph strangers, empathize with them. Feel the emotions they do, before you click the shutter.

Principle 3: Simple *and* dynamic

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The last principle is this: make your photos both simple and dynamic.

Simple: simple background. Dynamic: composition, movement, and emotion.

You can make dynamic compositions in street photography by getting close, by using a wide-angle lens (24mm, 28mm, or 35mm). Dynamic by tilting your camera (Dutch angle), or by integrating more diagonals or curves in your photos. Or make it more dynamic by adding layers to your photos, to create more depth in your photos.

Black and White Street Photography Compositions

Below is a break-down of my favorite black ad white compositions from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sergio Larrain, and Nikos Economopoulos:

Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions

Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00001Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00052Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00002Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00053Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00003Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00054Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00004Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00005Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00055Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00006Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00007Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00056Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00008Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00057Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00009Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00058Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00010Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00011Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00059Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00012Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00060Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00061Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00013Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00062Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00063Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00014Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00064Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00065Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00015Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00066Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00016Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00017Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00067Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00018Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00068Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00019Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00069Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00020Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00070Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00021Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00071Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00022Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00072Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00023Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00073Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00024Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00074Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00025Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00026Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00075Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00027Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00076Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00028Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00029Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00077Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00030Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00031Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00032Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00078Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00033Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00034Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00079Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00035Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00080Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00036Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00081Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00037Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00082Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00038Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00083Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00039Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00084Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00040Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00085Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00041Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00086Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00042Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00087Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00043Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00088Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00044Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00089Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00090Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00045Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00046Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00091Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00047Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00092Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00093Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00048Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00094Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00049Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00095Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00050Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00096Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00097Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00098Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00099Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00100Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00101Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00102Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00103Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00104Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00105Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00106Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00107Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00108Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00109Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00110Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00111Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00112Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00113Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00114Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00115Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00116Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00117Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00118Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00119Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00120Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00121Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00122Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00123Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00124Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00125Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00126Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00127Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00128Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00129Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00130Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00131Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00132Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00133Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00134Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00135Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00136Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00137Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00138Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00139Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00140Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00141Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00142Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00143Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00144Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00145Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00146Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00147Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00148Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00149Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00150Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00151Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00152Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00153Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00154Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00155Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00156Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00157Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00158Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00159Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00160Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00161Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00162Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00163Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00164Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00165Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00166Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00167Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00168Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00169Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00170Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00171Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00172Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00173Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00174Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00175Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00176Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00177Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00178Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00179Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00180Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00181Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00182Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00183Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00184Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00185Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00186Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00187Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00188Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00189Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00190Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00191Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00192Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00193Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00194Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00195Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00196Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00197Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00198Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00199Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00200Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00201Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00202Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00203Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00204Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00205Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00206Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00207Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00208Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00209Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00210Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00211Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00212Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00213Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00214Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00215Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00216Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00217Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00218Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00219Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00220Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00221Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00222Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00223Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00224Henri Cartier-Bresson Compositions00225

Sergio Larrain Compositions

Sergio Larrain Composiiton00001Sergio Larrain Composiiton00002Sergio Larrain Composiiton00003Sergio Larrain Composiiton00004Sergio Larrain Composiiton00005Sergio Larrain Composiiton00006Sergio Larrain Composiiton00007Sergio Larrain Composiiton00008Sergio Larrain Composiiton00009Sergio Larrain Composiiton00010Sergio Larrain Composiiton00011Sergio Larrain Composiiton00012Sergio Larrain Composiiton00013Sergio Larrain Composiiton00014Sergio Larrain Composiiton00015Sergio Larrain Composiiton00016Sergio Larrain Composiiton00017Sergio Larrain Composiiton00018Sergio Larrain Composiiton00019Sergio Larrain Composiiton00020Sergio Larrain Composiiton00021Sergio Larrain Composiiton00022Sergio Larrain Composiiton00023Sergio Larrain Composiiton00024Sergio Larrain Composiiton00025Sergio Larrain Composiiton00026Sergio Larrain Composiiton00027Sergio Larrain Composiiton00028Sergio Larrain Composiiton00029Sergio Larrain Composiiton00030Sergio Larrain Composiiton00031Sergio Larrain Composiiton00032Sergio Larrain Composiiton00033Sergio Larrain Composiiton00034Sergio Larrain Composiiton00035Sergio Larrain Composiiton00036Sergio Larrain Composiiton00037Sergio Larrain Composiiton00038Sergio Larrain Composiiton00039Sergio Larrain Composiiton00040Sergio Larrain Composiiton00041Sergio Larrain Composiiton00042Sergio Larrain Composiiton00043Sergio Larrain Composiiton00044Sergio Larrain Composiiton00045Sergio Larrain Composiiton00046Sergio Larrain Composiiton00047Sergio Larrain Composiiton00048

Nikos Economopoulos Compositions

Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00029Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00018Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00024Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00002Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00035Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00007Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00030Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00012Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00019Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00025Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00031Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00003Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00036Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00020Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00013Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00008Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00026Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00032Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00004Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00027Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00005Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00037Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00021Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00014Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00038Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00009Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00015Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00022Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00039Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00010Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00016Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00040Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00041Nikos Economopoulos Composition 00042


dark skies over tokyo - eric kim1

Black and white is timeless and classic. Harness this aesthetic to better convey the emotions you want to inject into your photos.

Shoot with your heart, mind, and soul. Process your photos in a way which conveys the emotions you desire to communicate to your viewer.

Black is better. The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.


Take your street photography to the next level

If you want to level up in your street photography, join me at an upcoming ERIC KIM WORKSHOP.

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