Plan everything in advance. Then be prepared to deviate from your plan if you see an opportunity that’s worth grabbing – this can sometimes produce the most startling images.
There’s something about black and white portraits that makes you, as a photographer, return to them time and time again. For some reason, although a color picture may be a more accurate representation of what a person looks like, a black and white picture carries more depth, drama and emotional content.
Consider using filters to darken your background if your image appears to be lacking contrast – although you’ll be able to achieve the same effect with post-production manipulation.
Site Note: Chimera softboxes are expensive, but they are practically bulletproof. Buy one and it should last you years.
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However, as with all types of photography, there are techniques that can be learned and practiced to improve your results.
Consider the composition and try to visualize what’s in front of you in black and white. Ask yourself some questions; Where will the contrast be most prominent? Where will the shadows fall?
No reason. I saw the speedlight on my shelf, and decided to just grab it.
On the upside, it guaranteed the somber expression I wanted.
The softbox was placed camera right about 5 feet from Bruce’s face, and about 8 inches above, angled down.
Home >> Blog >> Tutorials >> A Dramatic Black & White Portrait From Start to Finish
Yes. But I like playing with light in-camera. It’s fun to me!
Then, I dodged the center of the face with a soft brush, and burned the forehead.
True story: I hadn’t used this flash in months, and the Li-ion battery was still charged. Amazing!
Although an area with lots of contrasts will make for an interesting textual effect, remember that a very busy background will draw attention away from the subject. Something plainer is usually desirable. Take this into account when you choose your location – and if you can find two or three background options in the same location, so much the better.
In a pinch, you can use Lightroom or Photoshop to increase your levels of contrast and brighten your subject. Tone curves or sliders can be utilized to darken sections of the image and extraneous background details can be faded out. And dodging and burning is really easy. Touch up your sitter’s face to hide blemishes and even out skin tone.
You’re in luck. I’m going to take you inside my brain to learn how I created a dramatic black & white portrait of my father.
It feels just a little too tight to me, which introduces tension.
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My goal with this post was to outline my process from start to finish.
Now let’s move on to the black and white conversion. I made this image black and white for 2 very simple reasons:
Red things in a color image will become brighter in the black and white image if you boost the red channel.
The bigger the light source, the softer the lightThe closer the light source, the softer the light
But I’m curious about what you think – how do you rate them vs. the final image, which you can see right here:
Next, I used a gradient to burn the bottom of the picture just a little bit more,
I shot 62 frames in 10 minutes, which included a couple of setup changes and some tinkering with the light.
That meant no skin retouching. This portrait did not touch Photoshop.
However, I don’t like the 3:2 aspect ratio of 35mm-based sensors for vertical pictures.
I use Capture One Pro, but you can apply all the same principles outlined here in Adobe Lightroom, ON1 Photo Raw, or Alien Skin Exposure.
The yellow channel also affects skin tones (especially for caucasian skin), but in this case, I was fine with how it looked.
Bruce is also my favorite portrait subject, because he always says yes – even if he’s in a bad mood!
If possible, spend some time getting to know your subject – and if you know them already, you’ll find yourself at a distinct advantage. You’ll get a better result if the person you’re photographing can act in a relaxed and natural way throughout the shoot. Even though you’re looking for drama in the image, that doesn’t mean you need drama from your subject!
Be careful, however, to make sure that enough light falls on your subject’s face. A good tip is to place them in the shade but then use a reflector to bounce light at their features.
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Weekly Photography Challenge Black and White Portraits 4 years ago
I have a tendency to shoot too fast, so I often try to sow down.
Speedlights don’t have modeling lights, which can make placing grids a little tricky.
And as you know, Bruce was grumpy, so I wanted to get through the shoot quickly.
And since it’s just days before Bruce’s 76th birthday, it’s to carry out my duty, and create another portrait of my Dad.
Michael Comeau is a Brooklyn-based portrait photographer and the founder of OnPortraits.com.
And oh yeah, you’ll probably love this collection of black and white portrait photography tips.
Why not something a traditional portrait lens like the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master?
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These amazing adapters let you mount any light modifier with an S-type mount (also known as a Bowens mount) on a speedlight. Plus, they work great with umbrellas.
I wanted total control over the lighting of the shot, which meant off camera flash.
Side Note: A flags is an object used to block light from hitting certain parts of the frame. Typically, they are made of black fabric stretched over frames.
As you can see, the softbox goes on front, and the speedlight goes in the back.
Well, my camera was already set at ISO 80 and 1/125s, which were fine for this picture.
Achieving a stunning black and white portrait shouldn’t be that difficult
Site Note: I use the Sony version of the Flashpoint R2 Speedlight. That means it uses TTL metering with my Sony camera. In manual mode, the flash will work with any brand of camera. I suggest just buying the version that matches up with your camera (Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus, etc.).
I wanted a tight shot, so I used my Sony FE Macro 90mm F/2.8 G lens, which is famous for its insane sharpness.
Then, I used my Sekonic L-308S Flash Meter to match my flash output with my camera settings, and we were ready to shoot.
recommended The XEQUALS Style Field Guide Pro Styled – Herb Ritts Correcting Color Cast with Lightroom
I wanted him squeezed into the upper left part of the frame.
To finish it off, I brightened the eyes just a hair. My Dad has super bright blue eyes, and I wanted just a little more sparkle.
What did you think? Was the picture worth the effort? Would you like to see more articles like this in the future?
Side Note: Dodging means making a part of the image lighter. Burning means making a part of the image darker.
Landscape Photography Tips Portrait Photography Tips Photo Composition Tips Beginner Photography Tips Photo Post Processing Tips Get Started with Cameras and Gear
Skin tones have lots of red in them, so the red channel has a big impact on skin brightness.
I added just a little exposure and contrast to the images, since I like bright highlights and deep shadows in black & white pictures.
Since I wanted to lighten my Dad’s skin a bit, I boosted the red channel.
But with my Dad in a mood, I picked up my pace to minimize his pain.
I wanted enough depth of field to get the whole face in focusI wanted the picture to be lit entirely by flash, with no ambient light
Look for areas of strong contrast. It will add instant drama to your image. Remember, it’s black and white – not fifty shades of grey! To that end, make sure you have areas of clean white and clean black in your image.
Since Bruce wasn’t his usual cooperative self, I composed the portrait to reflect his mood.
I was only looking for 1 strong image, which made things easy.
My lens was less than a foot from my Dad’s face here – impossible with a non-macro lens.
The Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro is an extremely sharp lens, so I keep the sharpening settings pretty low.
Consider using natural light for a black and white portrait – as long as your subject isn’t standing in direct sunlight, it’s likely to give a much softer and nuanced feel to your picture. Placing them in an area of light shade, as close to the edge of it as possible can be highly successful, especially if you can shoot from a brighter area.
My first instinct was to pick up a grid, but I went with a tiny little Chimera 12×16” softbox.
I used a Godox S-Type adapter to mount the softbox on the flash.
Simple: I love macro lenses for their close focusing ability, which makes shots like this possible:
Want to see my entire black and white portrait photography process from beginning to end?
He’s a 75-year old retired truck driver and a Vietnam veteran.
I used my Flashpoint R2 Li-ion speedlight, which is a little beast of a flash.
Pro tip; If you camera allows it, set your picture mode or Live View mode to black and white so you can instantly see how your image will appear. If you can shoot tethered, you can maintain control your images as they come straight out of the camera.
Start thinking about your picture before you look through the viewfinder.
With this new black & white portrait, I channeled my inner Irving Penn and Albert Watson.
If you can’t find natural contrast, create it. Pale colors quite literally pop from a dark background, while dark colors set against a pale background can draw the eye. Use this knowledge in combination with your subject’s hair color and skin tone to make them stand out from the background. If they simply blend with whatever is behind them, your image will lack any feeling.
The one you see above is my favorite. But I wanted to top it.
99% of the time, I don’t care about my settings unless I specifically want a very shallow or very deep depth of field.
That meant a simple, graphically strong composition, plenty of shadow, and a quiet expression.
The classic film stocks you love now available for Photoshop; t.co/sTX t.co/rWT
I’d get some drama since it’s small, but it’s also easy to position.
As an OnPortraits.com reader, it’s your job to create portraits of your family members. (and it’s their duty to sit for you!)
There is something timeless about a black and white portrait. Let’s look at a few examples from several photographers. Here are 21 fine examples of dramatic black and white portraits.
I wanted a dark gradation at the the bottom of the image, so I had my sister hold up a piece of cardboard as a makeshift flag.
My Dad’s an old man, and I want to see all his wrinkles and blemishes.
So why a speedlight? Why not a monolight like my Flashpoint Xplor 600 HSS TTL?
Keep your composition as simple as possible and create drama through the use of light and darkness. You can create more contrast by underexposing your shot.
I wanted the simplicity and starkness of a black and white pictureLook at that wall. It’s hideous!
I lust over the Sony A7 III, but the A7 II still works just fine.
I also wanted a brighter background, so I boosted the yellow channel.
Since I carefully metered my flash, every image was perfectly consistent.
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That meant I had to work fast, because I didn’t him to get too annoyed at me.
So I was made my choice purely on expression and composition.
I used Capture One Pro to output and sharpen the final portrait at 900 pixels wide.
So, for a hard light, we use a small light source, and we move it away from the subject.
Now it’s time to work the color channels within the black and white module.
My camera was set at f/5.0 before this, and I quickly turned the Aperture dial to get around f/8. I just happened to land on f/9.
I’m going to take you the process from start to finish, including:
Related: Albert Watson: 24 Lessons from a Master Portrait Photographer
To create your perfect black and white portrait, not only will you need to understand composition and lighting, but you’ll also need a deft hand during post production. Here are some shortcuts and methods that might help.
Achieving a stunning black and white portrait shouldn’t be that difficult – it’s a matter of gaining experience. The more you do it, the more you’ll develop your eye for what’s right and wrong with your composition and lighting before you take the shot. Practice as often as you can and in no time you’ll be seeing some wonderful results.
Photographers could experiment and discuss their camera settings for hours. An idea to play with is to use a fast lens and a wide aperture and then adjust your settings as you see the results. Remember to set your camera for black and white shooting.
13 Black and White Portrait Photography Tips That Actually Work
We’ll start with my final image selection, straight out of camera:
Think about details and textures that you might want to capture. Soft light will allow details to show while brighter light will pick up texture better. Consider your subject and use that knowledge to your advantage.
Site Note: Yes, I’m simplifying this a bit. Yes, a big, soft light can be dramatic, but I wanted the harder edges of a smaller light source. But if I cover every little detail of light quality, this would turn into an encyclopedia of an article.
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I wanted a dramatic hard light with deep shadows, which means a small light source.
And there’s not much to say about the expression – he gave exactly what I was looking for.