A lack of colour opens up a new world where light, expressions, and stories are intensified. With B&W portrait photography, you can show feelings without the distraction of colour.
Moreover, you should make the most of the Curve and Clarity tools in your editing program. They’re usually all I need when I convert my portraits to B&W.
Keep an eye out for these things when you take photographs as they’ll greatly complement your subject’s poses and enhance your compositions.
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.
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The grain in your photos will create a rough, film-like look. The lack of light, which may look unappealing in colour, will look dramatic in B&W.
Finally, if you try black and white and you like it: welcome to the addiction!
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.
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.
In Photoshop, you can choose various filters. What works best for most portraits is the Green filter. It enhances every skin colour, darkens textures, and adds more contrast to the entire photo.
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.
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This article will equip you with the skills to achieve those visually appealing black and white portraits.
Focus on the things you usually overlook or leave out. If there are any vibrant colours you’d usually avoid, take a photo of them and convert the results to B&W.
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This will make your photos eye-catching (pun intended!) and impactful. Combine that with a great pose and you’ll have the perfect black and white portrait.
Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid imagery, their absence can as well.
If you want to save time and experiment with someone else’s style, use B&W Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions. These resources will instantly convert your photos to stylistic black and white portraits.
The type of lighting you should work with depends on the kind of story you want your photos to tell. You don’t even have to come up with a complicated idea. All you have to do is ask yourself three simple questions:
In Lightroom, the same tools are available under Tone Curve. Simply drag the Orange slider to the right and the Red slider to the left.
If you shoot in colour first, you’ll have more control during the editing process. Instead of manually selecting areas you’d like to edit, you can instantly adjust certain “colours” using tools like sliders in Lightroom or Selective Colour in Photoshop.
Not every image looks appealing in black and white. Learning how to shoot for B&W as opposed to in B&W will help you strengthen your ability to think creatively. You’ll get to challenge yourself and take better photos.
Many photographers recommend focusing on the eyes when taking black and white portraits. When you ask your models to pose a certain way, make sure their eyes look bright and sparkly.
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.
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?
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.
A lack of colour gives other elements a chance to be seen and appreciated. These include textures, expressions, and negative space. Wrinkles, freckles, and fabric will all tell a story of their own in black and white.
Through black and white portrait photography, I found a new way to heighten those feelings and exceeded all of my expectations. It’s worth trying it out yourself.
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.
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.
How do I want people to feel when they look at my portraits? If you want people to feel touched when they look at your work, try experimenting with fewer light sources and more shadows. If you’re aiming for a brighter atmosphere, take photos in a well-lit location.
(One of my favourite locations to take black and white portraits is any shaded area on a sunny day.) How do I want my model to feel when I take these photos? Once you choose an emotion that appeals to you, consider the instructions you’ll give to your model.
If you know how to give your model clear instructions, you won’t have to deal with unnecessary confusion later on. What is my favourite black and white portrait? As I mentioned in my self-portraiture article, there’s nothing wrong with using other people’s work for inspiration.
Research B&W portraits, analyse what stands out to you, and find out why you like those portraits. Posing for Black and White Portraits
When I take photos of people, I like to separate them from their backgrounds. To do this, I use an aperture of f/1.8 – f/2.5.
You can take photos of anything you like and convert them to black and white, but chances are you won’t be happy with the result. B&W portraits demand careful attention and preparation.
Filled with doubts, I still persevered and discovered a world that completely changed the way I looked at portrait photography.
I remember how skeptical I felt when I took my first black and white self-portraits. I had seen so many B&W galleries that seemed impossibly gorgeous to me. As a beginner with virtually no experience, I didn’t think I had much to contribute.
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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.
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.
Eventually, you’ll feel confident in this sub-genre, become great at editing black and white portraits, and turn into a master of thinking in B&W.
Black and white photography (B&W) is one of the most popular genres for portraiture. Many gravitate to it because of the unique and honest perspective it can bring to your photos.
Figure out what kind of stories you want to tell, learn how to give clear instructions to your models, appreciate the uniqueness of elements like textures, and don’t be afraid to fail once in a while.
What first started out as a skeptical experiment turned into a personal creative journey. Through self-portraiture, I found a way to express my deepest feelings.
When I take portraits at night (or in a place with very few light sources), I like to experiment with high ISO numbers. I know this might sound intimidating, but it’s ideal for black and white photography.
Expressions will add depth to every other part of your photograph. Negative space, like an empty sky or a black background, will give your portrait a minimalistic yet striking look.
Firstly, don’t get discouraged if your photo looks dull as soon as you convert it to black and white. The first thing you should do is work with the options that your editing program offers.
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Camera settings, lighting, location, and your model’s posing all have to be planned carefully before your photo shoot.
I myself often use free scratch textures or make my own. More often than not, these effects look better in my B&W portraits than in their coloured versions.
Now that you know the basics, you have every reason to keep experimenting with black and white photography, from portraiture to self portraits to weddings to landscapes.
Familiarising yourself with other people’s editing preferences is a great way to learn or even get out of a creative rut.
You can also add grain to your photos if you want to make them look like they were taken with a film camera. Subtle grain or dust textures look particularly stunning in black and white photographs.
The real magic of black and white photography happens when you start editing.
This is because B&W has an unparalleled moodiness that goes beyond colour photography. A B&W portrait will prioritise your subject’s expressions, movements, and other subtleties.
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Befriending your subjects will help you understand what makes them who they are. This information will allow you to tell your story through their unique personality.
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.
This range makes my subjects stand out and creates gorgeous bokeh. A soft background will complement your model’s features, eliminate any potential distractions, and look amazing in B&W.
A lot of cameras nowadays have a B&W shooting option. It’s a really fun feature worth experimenting with. But it should not be your main tool for black and white photography.
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.
Without any distracting colours and details, your subject will stand out. Every curve, movement, and texture will be emphasised. It’s important to know what looks most natural.
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However, this is just my way of working with aperture. If you have a different method, don’t feel left out, but do remain open to experimenting with new settings.
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.
Your editing style is probably different to mine, but there are some tricks that every artist with an editing program can benefit from.
Posing relies heavily on communication and practice, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes during this process, especially if you’re working with non-models. Also, get to know your models before you work with them.
As you read the following points, think about the stories you want to tell and what you want your viewers to feel when they look at your work. This information will help you immensely before, during, and after your photo shoot.
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.
What you initially have in mind while taking the photos could disappoint you during the editing process. Knowing how to prepare, what to watch out for, and how to communicate with your model will get you far.
When you watch out for interesting objects to include in your portraits, don’t forget to think in black and white. What may look appealing to you in colour may not look that great in black and white, and vice versa.
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.
These tools will help you deepen shadows and brighten highlights. It’s easy to get carried away with clarity and unintentionally add too much depth to your photo, so be careful when you adjust it.
What I love most about a black and white portrait is its soulfulness. If you compared two versions of the same portrait – the original and its B&W copy – you would feel more drawn to the emotions in the second one.