For many photographers, black and white is more than a creative choice at the post-production stage; it’s a mindset. If you can start the creation of an image knowing that you intend it to be black and white, you can take steps to ensure that all of the elements of a good monochrome image are in place before you press the shutter. Things like contrast in tonality, contrast in lighting, and appropriate expressions from your subjects are all elements that are difficult, if not impossible, to fix after an image is taken.
Her portrait photography is consistent with this as she primarily photographed marginal people such as dwarfs, giants, nudists, performers, and other deviants.
Why would you choose to create black and white photographs in the era of digital cameras that are capable of accurately capturing millions upon millions of colors? Black and white photography seems to be a constant in the history of the medium, with color technology only propagating itself into wide use around halfway between Nicéphore Niépce’s first heliograph and today.
Known for her black and white portrait photography of seemingly ugly or surreal people, Diane Arbus is one of the more unique portrait photographers out there.
It’s all about personal preference here. If you’re not sure what yours is, try finding the first ten black and white portraits that stand out to you the most and see if you can deconstruct them in terms of lighting.
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A photographer of the American West and Native American peoples, Edward S. Curtis was one of the earliest portrait photographers, being born in 1868.
A portrait photographer from South Wales, Angus McBean is remembered for his portrait photography of celebrities in the early 1900s.
When it comes to lighting a black and white portrait image, there are no hard and fast rules. If you like high contrast images with hard gradations in tone, then choose a harder source of light. If you like soft tones and subtler images, then you want a softer light source.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week featuring black and white photography tips. Look for earlier ones below and more daily over the next week.
Portrait photography is a genre where black and white images can really shine. Like any technique, there are considerations that you should regard that can help to make sure your images have the most impact.
Antonin Kratochvil is a photojournalist and portrait photographer from Czechoslovakia. His work unique in that he has photographed everything from celebrities to war victims.
The most important part of the majority of portraits are the eyes. They are usually the focal point that the rest of your image is built around. This is especially true with black and white. With the omission of color, a black and white image often breaks down into graphic forms and shapes. Eyes are shapes that everyone recognizes and they draw immediate focus from your viewers. Make sure that your subject’s eyes are well lit, and focus is critical.
If you’re going to create high contrast black and white photos, the best advice is to add it with light, not in Photoshop. Small global adjustments are okay and won’t hurt your images, but definitely do not crank the contrast slider to 100. Try to limit it between +15/-15. For local adjustments, use a dodging and burning technique of your choice. The key point in this, and all post-production, is subtlety.
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She truly can be considered one of the best portrait photographers of all time as her work during the Depression showed the faces and emotions of so many affected.
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From celebrities to politicians to world leaders and thought provokers, Yousuf Karsh photographed the best of the best.
He photographed many famous icons in American pop-culture and beyond and was very good at switching up the usual style of fashion and portrait photography with his unique photos. Find a more complete bio of him on Artsy.
Finally, if you try black and white and you like it: welcome to the addiction!
Steve McCurry is an American Photojournalist who has done work for National Geographic and has won countless awards for his photojournalism and coverage of various wars throughout history.
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Philippe is the photographer responsible for some of the 20th century’s most recognizable portraits. He was an American portrait photographer who had some eccentric photography.
Hist work was intriguing and prominent in the fields of fashion and style.
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Here is an exercise you can do with your portrait subjects to get a mixture of great expressions. Prepare a list of words or phrases and ask them to react to how they feel to each one. The words you choose can be simple descriptors of emotion like: love, sad, joy, angry and melancholy. For more diverse expressions try more abstract words, or funny ones like: cheeseburger, politics, Teletubbies or Hulk smash. As a bonus, this sometimes works extremely well to lighten the mood when you have a subject who’s tense or nervous during a sitting.
His best work includes portraits of Marlon Brando, Salvador Dali, Marilyn Monroe, and more.
If you’re working on an image that you feel isn’t up to scratch and you ask yourself if it will work in black and white, the answer is probably no. A black and white treatment will often emphasize the flaws that made you question the image in the first place, and a bad photo is a bad photo regardless of its color scheme or lack thereof.
Her use of bold colors, intriguing light, and unique poses is what ultimately helped her work gain exposure.
Certain subjects scream out to be shot in black and white. Other subjects may not be so obvious. Bright, punchy colors obviously make for vivid color photos, but by removing the color element you can completely change how a subject or scene is perceived. When you want to ensure your viewer is focused on a particular element, color as a graphic element, can become a distraction. Try removing it.
Known for pushing the bar and heavily influencing American style, Richard Avedon is one of the most prominent fashion and portrait photographers of all time.
If you have trouble imagining how an image may look in black and white, try setting your camera to a monochrome setting. While it isn’t recommended to do this for a final image, as long as you shoot in RAW file format, then all of your image’s color data will still be present in the file, and Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw will reset the photo back to color once it’s imported. Doing this will allow you to have an idea of how an image will work in black and white, while still providing the highest amount of versatility in post-production.
Like the eyes, other facial features become more prominent in a black and white portrait. You can use this to your advantage by conveying emotion in your images. Even tiny changes in your subject’s expression can make a difference. Things like a raised eyebrow, a twitch at the corner of a mouth, and smile lines under the eyes can all be used to great effect.
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Portrait photography is a constant challenge and requires the photographers creativity in order to really achieve beautiful portraits.
If you’re new to black and white photography, do remember that these are guides and not rules. If you need to stray from them to get the result you’re after, do so without hesitation.
Yousuf Karsh was an Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer most widely recognized for his clientele. When it came to portrait photography, he photographed all the top people in the world.
Some of Yousuf’s subjects included Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Helen Keller, Grace Kelly, and so many others.
One of the more common types of photography, especially in the digital age of the “selfie“, is portrait photography. Also known as portraiture, portrait photography is the art of taking a photo of a single person or group of people, capturing their most real mood and emotion.
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Herb Ritts was an American Fashion and Portrait photographer who took most of his photos in black and white, with a unique touch. He positioned his models in the style of classical Greek sculpture.
One of the most famous portraits of all time comes from Steve McCurry. Known as “Afghan Girl“, it is commonly compared to the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art.
An influential documentary photographer and American photojournalist, Dorothea Lange was fundamental in documenting the Depression Era.
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Her philosophy involved taking real photos. Photos that involved flaws and shortcomings, not beautified perfection.
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He has a unique style and leans toward black and white for most of hist work.
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Some of the best portraits involve the most authentic capture of human emotion and expression. Learn more about photography from the best portrait photographers below.
Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid imagery, their absence can as well.
He took stunning portraits for various Native American’s and each photo tells a story. Effectively he is prominent in visualizing American history, and that is why he is one of the best portrait photographers.
He was very famous in the era of vintage film and the rise of the cinema. His most famous subjects included Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, and the Beatles.
Arguably one of the most famous American portrait photographers, Annie Leibovitz is known for her exceptional work photographing the portraits of celebrities. She has worked for Rolling Stone Magazine, Vanity Fair, and a few other fashion and pop-culture publications.
She is known for her work photographing victims of the Great Depression and was very important in the development of documentary photography.
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There’s a lot of debate on both sides of the argument, but for me and many others it’s a simple matter of aesthetics. A good black and white treatment has a way of stripping unneeded information from an image, helping you to emphasize specific elements to your viewer without the distractions color can provide.
This can be a difficult concept to understand without seeing it, so I have included an example of a color version of one the images above. Ask yourself: How did your perception of the photos change? What did you notice first in each of the images? Do you feel differently or think differently of it when you view it in color than in black and white?