Black And White Portraits On White Background Black And White Photography

May 18, 2019 4:55 am by columnblogger
Black and white art monochrome photography black and white creative photography black and white
Dramatic black and white portrait of a beautiful lonely girl with freckles isolated on a white background in studio
Black And White Portraits On White Background Black And White Photography

Who does not love a crisp, deep black background for a portrait? You can achieve this with the application of just two ideas, and just a little post-processing too.

  • 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.

How you decide to throw some light onto the subject of the photograph is for other articles. There are many other great Digital Photography School articles, which offer a huge number of suggestions for illuminating subjects. I thought you should know that I do very much like my LEDs, as I like being able to see the light. I also use reflectors. However, the first source of light in all the photographs above is natural light. You do not necessarily need a fancy kit.

This also works exceptionally well with a profile pose. To create this rim, position a specular light source directly behind the subject, aiming toward the camera, but ensuring that the subject’s body casts a shadow on the lens. If you’d like the light to wrap around a bit and provide more illumination on the subject’s cheek, simply move the light incrementally from behind the subject to the side. These subtle key adjustments, or subtle moveme nts of the subject’s head position, make all the difference.

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.

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 power of photography! 25 years after the event, I paid a bit of homage to Annie Leibowitz’s photograph of Demi Moore. I was not trying to replicate it as such, just nod in the photograph’s direction. But I did manage to get a really black background, didn’t I? Please give it a go yourself.

Enhance the effect by starting with a dark or black background. In the studio, a dark wall or roll of dark gray or black seamless paper provides the perfect backdrop against which to set your low-key scene. If you’re not in a studio, choose a space that’s large enough to put some distance between the subject and background so any falloff from the key light has dropped to nearly nothing by the time it reaches the background. Underexposing the ambient light in a large room works very well for low-key lighting when a black backdrop can’t be had (more on that in a moment).

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.

Most of the way to being processed in just a very few steps.

I was also a bit surprised at how far I moved the black point. It seemed to work, though. As I say, I think it often works best if you move the sliders, without too much concern for the numbers they represent. Try to look at each photograph individually, rather than apply some sort of formula.

Once you have your RAW files in the computer (you do shoot RAW, don’t you? It’s particularly helpful when working with low-key image files because of the retouching latitude), simple Lightroom adjustments can really refine your images. For an image that is very dark and contrasty, the Shadows and Blacks sliders will slightly bring up those values, while dragging down the Highlights and Whites sliders in the Develop module will keep the very brightest pixels in the scene in check. With Lightroom’s Adjustment brush, these edits easily can be applied selectively, like dodging and burning.

Because low-key lighting, by definition, requires deep shadows and a plethora of dark tones, too many lights actually can be a liability. For most low-key lighting setups, a single source is all that’s needed. You can do a lot with just one light.

This is the photograph from the top of the article, as it first appeared out of the camera. You do not want to hear my excuses, but I did not get it as completely right in-camera as I would normally like to do. However, it turns out that is lucky, as it makes a good example for a post-processing in this case. Because the file was produced with the application of the ideas talked about above, it is very workable.

So, that quite simply is all there is to it. Now I’ve deliberately not gone into too much technical jargon to explain this because I want this to be a ‘how to’ tutorial as opposed to a ‘why’ but should you wish to know the ins and outs of the technical side I’ll gladly pass on details of books that will cover it all.

I find that a very subtle fill from a reflector or very low-powered strobe positioned close to the lens works wonders to add a hint of detail to shadows. This might be a garment or a cheek or even a subject’s hair. Because too much pure black shadow can be overbearing, a little bit of fill can be a big help.

Smart photographers know that a single light source can deliver unbelievably beautiful illumination. (Don’t believe me? Watch a sunset.) By moving a single light source far from the subject, the illumination gets flat and less dramatic. Moving that source close to the subject, however, allows the faster falloff from highlight to shadow to make for more drama. This approach also helps to create the darkness in the background that sets the mood and isolates the highlights against a canvas of dark pixels. With a subject far from the background and the key light very close to the subject, the background is bound to go dark.

“I’ve been listening for a while now and these guys are fantastic! Tons of tips and useful information. Interviews are Top Class” – from iTunes

3. Shutter Speed…Set your camera to its maximum/optimum sync speed. Basically this is the maximum speed that your camera and flash work together ie any faster than this and your camera’s shutter is opening and closing too quickly to allow all the light from your flash to fill the camera’s sensor. Common maximum sync speeds are in the 1/200th of a second to 1/250th of a second. Now although we could quite easily make the scene completely black by going to an incredibly high shutter speed like 1/8000th second the problem with this is that the shutter will open and close so quickly that none of the light from the flash will hit the sensor, so we must stick to the maximum sync speed that our cameras and flashes work ‘together’.

Lastly, clean up any skin texture produced by the raking light position. The Frequency Separation approach is a great way to isolate texture from tonal values, or just use the Clone stamp and Spot Healing brush to eliminate the most egregious bumps and wrinkles.

There’s no question that having this technique in your ‘Photography Toolbag’ can save you alot of time, effort and not to mention…money, but it also allows you to add a little extra creativity to your ‘shoot’ and get photos that you would have normally thought only possible in a studio or with a collapsible backdrop.

So, how do we achieve the ‘Black Backdrop’? Basically what we’re looking to do is to tell the camera to capture no light other than what we introduce in the form of a speedlight flash for example. We don’t want the camera to pick up any of the ambient/natural light at all, and by doing that we have an instant black backdrop.

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.

I managed to do just that with this image. It makes me smile when I look at it now, a few weeks later, as I am slightly surprised at how far I went. I adjusted the color balance, brushed some negative clarity onto mom’s face, rotated the image counter-clockwise a little, but the exposure was not adjusted at all as the faces looked fine to me. Then I started pushing the sliders around.

These effects can be achieved in Photoshop, as well. You’ll likely find that Adjustment Layers are the perfect tool to add selective brightness and darkness to an image to polish it off. If you have dark areas that need to be darker, you can always use Photoshop’s Paintbrush tool to paint away unwanted details in the darkest shadows.

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.

In the example above, one unit of light arrives at our subject, one meter away from the window. If she moves two meters away, just one-quarter of a unit of light will now be arriving at her. Then, if she moves three meters away from the window, which is the source of light, there will be only one-ninth of a unit of light. The available light disappears very quickly.

Triggering the flash As this technique uses ‘off camera’ flash we need to have a way of triggering our flash. I use Pocket Wizards which are the industry standard radio triggers; great pieces if kit, very reliable that work at ridiculous distances, but they do have a price tag to match. However, there are lots of alternative ways to trigger your flash from a simple ‘sync lead’ which forms a physical connection to your camera and flash (with obvious limitations), an infra red trigger, Nikon users can use their ‘Pop-Up’ flashes to trigger another flash using the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) and there’s even budget radio triggers you can get off ebay that seem to work just fine.

Share your images and questions in the comments below. I’m happy to try to help further if I can.

Again experience of having done this a few times will dictate what power level you put the flash on so until that time just pick a power level ie 1/4 power, then take a shot and see what you get. If you want more light then increase the power of the flash in increments until you get what you want. If the light from the flash is too bright then simply lower the power level in increments.

In respect of the black cloth, most advice will suggest that you buy black velvet. I am sure it does an excellent job of absorbing light from all directions. But it is expensive, and with careful technique, it seems to me that another dark, non-shiny cloth can do the job too. One thing to pay a little attention to is making sure that you stretch the background cloth out a little. Try to get it as smooth and even as possible, with no creases, as any imperfections are liable to catch the light.

As a rule, Shutter Speed controls Ambient/Natural light and Aperture controls flash power but in this technique once we’ve set both the shutter speed and aperture to give us our black background we really need to leave them well alone and control the power of the flash manually by walking over to (or better still having an assistant) adjust it by hand.

If you can throw some extra light onto the subject and have them exposed correctly, in the brighter end of the dynamic range, that will help to send the rest of the image into darkness. The brightly lit subject should be properly exposed. Then there is a good chance that the background will be outside of the part of the dynamic range for which you are exposing. It will, at the very least, be heading towards black.

As with every kind of portraiture, it’s the combination of quality lighting and just the right amount of retouching that make an image work. With low-key lighting, the effect can be as classic and timeless, or as hip and cutting edge, as you want it to be. Either way, these lighting and editing techniques go a long way to creating successful low-key portraits.

  • 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.

I’ve already mentioned keeping the light close, but where exactly should it be? I find one of the most effective placements of a key light in a low-key portrait is to create short lighting, where the side of the face that primarily faces the camera is in shadow and only the smaller side of the face—or even just a sliver—is illuminated. Better still, consider backlighting for a rim effect to create separation between subject and background.

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.

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 can diffuse the source, that’s even better. True, a bare-bulb, specular light definitely will make for some dark dramatic shadows, but until you’re skilled at illuminating faces with a hard light source, I recommend starting with some diffusion. If you insist on working with slightly harder light, consider a beauty dish, which is a great compromise between specular “pop” and beautiful diffusion.

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.

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.

Familiarising yourself with other people’s editing preferences is a great way to learn or even get out of a creative rut.

Use the natural law (it is called the Inverse Square Law) which dictates that light falls away rapidly from the source, and the limited dynamic range of your camera and you are a long way to getting a good, deep black, background. Next, you can help complete it further in post-processing.

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.

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Dynamic range is the measurement from the darkest to the lightest item which can be seen. Your camera has a great deal less dynamic range than the human eye. It is much less capable of seeing into dark and light areas at the same time. That is why, when your camera produces an image with blown out highlights, and blocked up shadows. But your eye can still see the detail of a bird, which sat in bright sunlight, and you can also see the black dog which sat in the darkest shadows. Your camera simply cannot see both at the same time.

With an image that was too bright at the time of exposure, drag the Exposure sliders down to darken the overall look of the scene, then grab and hold the sliders corresponding to whites and highlights and drag them to the right.

Adding a fill light to the scene evens out both the shadows and the skin tones.

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.

5. Bring in the flash…Now we’ve ‘set the scene’ with our camera’s and have a completely black screen, the final phase to this technique is to ‘bring in the flash’. Where you prefer to position your flash and what modifier you use is entirely down to you depending on the look you want to achieve but I find I get great results using a 60″ reflective umbrella. This is a great piece of kit that creates beautiful light but I can also ‘close down’ to control where I want the light to fall and how much etc…

Still not happy – most people would describe the background as black, but it is not the blackest of blacks, is it?

I am referring to Lightroom here, but there are equivalent tools in other software.

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Of most significance to this exercise is the shadows slider which was moved in the opposite direction to usual. It was moved to the negative, to block up the shadows, rather than to the right, to try to pull out some detail.

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.

With a few simple adjustments in Lightroom, it’s possible to boost the effects of your low-key lighting setup.

In a lot of commercial portraiture these days, there’s an emphasis on high-production values. Whether from exotic locations or from using a lot of lights, it seems the conventional wisdom is generally “more is better.” But, in fact, when trying to create a moody, dramatic or intimate black-and-white portrait, sometimes less actually is more. With a simple setup, using strobe lights or constant sources, in a studio or even on location, photographers can create beautiful, low-key black-and-white portraits that prove minimal lighting can deliver a maximum effect.

2. ISO…Set your camera to it’s lowest possible ISO. In laymen’s terms, the iso dictates how sensitive to light your camera’s sensor is i.e a low number like 200 means it’s less sensitive to light whereas a higher number like 1600 means it’s more sensitive to light. On a side note the higher the iso number the more noise/grain can be introduced into your photograph, particularly in the shadow areas. Now, seeing as we’re looking to make a black backdrop we’re not concerned with how sensitive to light the camera is, so we’ll be keeping our iso as low as possible; in my case, my Nikon D3 can go down to 100 which means the camera isn’t very sensitive to light at all and the final picture will be nice and clean with minimal grain/noise.

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!

1. Put your camera into MANUAL MODE. Yes, now we are in control: Shutter Speed, Aperture, iso…from this point onwards we’re telling the camera what to do as opposed to the camera telling us and giving us the picture it thinks we want.

2. If you’re using Speedlights outside to do this technique you may find that if you’re doing it in the middle of a bright afternoon your cameras aperture (f number) will have to be set so closed down (eg f/22) that your speedlights wont be powerful enough to light the sensor. The answer here is to find a covered/shady area or better still wait for the sun to ease off a little. This technique can be done in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day but that would call for alot more powerful lighting to be used which in turn would cost alot more money.

This article will equip you with the skills to achieve those visually appealing black and white portraits.

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.

Want to sharpen your lighting skills? Our guide to Portrait Lighting Essentials provides instructions on the must-know basic lighting techniques, and provides tips for making a memorable image.

In these photographs, the subject hasn’t moved and the exposure does not change. The background moves farther away, and the amount of light reaching it reduces rapidly. Even when the background is white, rather than the desired black, it gets much darker the greater the distance it is positioned from the light source.

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.

The image on the left has the background close to the subject, about three feet (one meter) behind her. Then, on the right, the white background is about thirteen feet (four meters) back. You do not need me to do calculations, quote some nice formulae, to prove what is happening above. It is obvious, isn’t it?

The first concept might be stated simply as light falls off rapidly. Fleshing that out just a little, the amount of light available decreases greatly as you move away from the source of the light. But we are photographers and we do tend to think that a picture is worth a thousand words, so look at the diagram below:

It might be stating the obvious, but it needs to be said – the first step to getting a black background is to use a black backdrop. Then, if you can get the subject lit more brightly than the background, that will push the background into the underexposed, dark areas, outside the camera’s more limited dynamic range.

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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.

It might suit some if I illustrate the same point with a graph (which, in the past, I have tended to introduce to students as a Mathematical picture).

If you have any questions then post them to the comments section…that way others with the same question will get the answers too. Also let me know how you get on…I’d love to see some of the results you come up with, or any challenges you experience and if you get the urge why not leave a comment…any feedback is great and don’t worry, I’ve got broad shoulders.

3. MAXIMUM SYNC SPEED (1/250th sec, 1/200th sec etc… depending on your camera)

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.

Hi I’m Glyn and this space on the internet is where I share all things Photography and Post Production with the sole purpose of inspiring others to reach their full creative potential…thanks for stopping by.

If you’d like to consider adding lights, you can. Just keep them behind the subject so they create edge lighting, and use a frontal fill for detail illumination, as needed. This technique is popular in edgy sports portraiture in recent years. The edge lights really define the shape of a muscular body, and the frontal fill adds the polish to this lighting approach. Without that frontal fill, the shot can still work—it just becomes a graphic, almost abstract outline of the human form.

Filled with doubts, I still persevered and discovered a world that completely changed the way I looked at portrait photography.

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.

Combine this reasonably straightforward science, the way light falls away, with the science of the dynamic range of camera sensors and you will be a long way towards achieving black backgrounds for your portraits.

One caveat when it comes to light placement: A light like this can create a raking effect across the subject’s face. This is certainly dramatic, but it also can emphasize any texture on the subject’s skin. A diffused light source may help, as will subtle tweaks to the subject’s face or the light’s position. It also can be defeated with fill light, but too much fill flattens the scene and changes the key. Ultimately, it’s simply a technique that may not work for every subject.

One of the best bits of advice I ever received, which I sometimes manage to apply, is to ignore the numbers. You should move those sliders till they give the look which you think suits the picture. Look at the photo and see what happens, take a breath, pause for a moment, and make some judgment as to whether it gives you what you’re looking for. Often this involves going a bit too far (whether it be with sharpening, or exposure, shadows, or whatever) and then dialing back a little.

The final image had only a couple more, tiny, detailed tweaks.

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.

Here is the same set up again, with some extra light on the subject.

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.

As long as you’re thinking about placing sources, look to the classical lighting patterns as a guide. When it comes to low-key portraits, the butterfly/Paramount pattern works very well, and loop and split lighting also do a fine job here. But it’s Rembrandt lighting that really excels in short-lighting, low-key situations. Watch for a diamond of light spilling onto the subject’s otherwise shadowed cheek, and you’ll know you’re on your way to beautiful, dramatic lighting.

One of the techniques I’ve been teaching has become affectionately knows as ‘The Invisible Black Backdrop’ and without doubt has proven to be one of the most popular techniques amongst attendees. So, this got me thinking…why not write a tutorial, post it on the blog and then encourage those who give it a go to submit their photographs?…I mean, what better way to judge your teaching than by seeing the results achieved by others?

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.

Here is the setup for a portrait, with only natural light hitting the subject. It is not as obvious in this reduced jpeg as in the original RAW file, but the background is rather muddy, certainly getting towards black, but not the pure black you are looking for. In the original, you can clearly see folds in the cloth.

Another refinement for low-key black-and-white images is toning. Because low-key images can easily come off as too stark, a bit of toning or split-toning can really add some dimension. Simply use Lightroom’s Split Toning controls to add a hint of warmth in the highlight (by first selecting the appropriate yellow or beige tone, then using the Saturation slider to increase its appearance) and balancing it with subtle blue or purple tones in the shadows. Failing that, consider using a Photoshop Adjustment Layer with the Filter adjustment dialed in to exactly where you need it. The Warming Filter is a personal favorite.

As an erstwhile teacher of Mathematics, I should not apologize for numbers, should I? There is quite a lot of Mathematics in photography. However, you may be pleased to know that I think you can achieve everything, without thinking much beyond the basics. If you have a broad understanding of the concepts you will be absolutely fine.

William Sawalich is a commercial photographer, an educator and a contributing editor for Digital Photo Pro, Digital Photo and Outdoor Photographer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. Visit his website at sawalich.com.

Without a fill light, the shadows on the subject’s face facing the camera are very strong and create a highly dramatic look.

The background for this photograph was the inside of a room. The teenage Filipino boy was standing in a doorway, getting full benefit from the light source. The background, the far wall of the room, might be only eight feet (just over two meters) away, but it is getting very close to the blackest of blacks, isn’t it?

Please understand that the numbers I am using here are approximate. They do vary from camera to camera, and from the conclusion given by one source to another. But I am going for using what is easy, what is really needed to make the point so you understand.

It was a bit of a surprise to see just how far towards the negative I had moved the contrast slider. This may be counter-intuitive when you are trying to make parts of the image darker, but because we have got a reasonably well-produced file, we can get away with reducing the contrast, and this has the pleasing effect of lightening the hair and separating it from the background.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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:

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.

Firstly, please think of stops of light as units. Using the term stop is like saying that something weighs 12 kilograms or that it is 10 miles away. As photographers, we tend to talk about stops and stopping down, but it is just as valid to say units. The thing is not to get bogged down in technicalities, the term stop is only a unit of measure.

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I think the point is illustrated. Is it clear that the background is worthy of the classic description “inky”? Other things could be improved with a few post-processing tweaks. They are presented to show the backgrounds, not as finished portraits, and I’ve only changed color balance and tried to balance the exposures.

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.

Your editing style is probably different to mine, but there are some tricks that every artist with an editing program can benefit from.

In the studio, creating a one-light low-key portrait can be done with either strobes or constant lights such as LED panels, compact fluorescents or even HMIs and tungsten hot lights. Whatever equipment you choose, it’s important to be able to move the light away from the camera. So if you’re using a hot-shoe speedlight, invest in the necessary accessories, such as a stand and remote trigger, to be able to move the light around the subject and away from the camera (more on placement in a moment).

So…what is the ‘Invisible Black Backdrop’? Well as the saying goes ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ so here’s what I mean:

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.

In the practical world, there may be limits to what you can do, perhaps by the shooting space you have available. However, the message is simple, push the background as far away as possible, and even a seemingly small distance will help make it appear darker.

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.

Now I just want to add that this technique can be done with any camera that has the ability to be put into Manual Mode and has the ability to trigger off camera flash; so that means SLR’s and some pocket cameras such as the Canon G range (G9, G10 and so on…)

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography’s Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading… CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It’s my training video that will walk you how to use your camera’s functions in just 10 minutes – for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

4. Aperture…The final setting on our cameras is the aperture or basically what ‘f’ number we should select. Now, knowing roughly what ‘f’ number to use will become second nature after you’ve done this a few times so the best thing is to choose say, f/5.6 and go from there. Once you’re at this stage take a photo of your subject and see what results you get. The objective here is to see absolutely nothing on your cameras display ie you should see a completely black screen. Now, if you don’t and you’re seeing a bit of the environment then clearly some natural/ambient light is creeping into the scene. So, all we have to do is close down our ‘f’ number a little ie if you’re getting natural/ambient light into the photo at say f/5.6 then try going to f/8.0 and see what that gives you:

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Keep an eye out for these things when you take photographs as they’ll greatly complement your subject’s poses and enhance your compositions.

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.

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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.

Why not try this technique on ‘still life’ too as in this photograph I took of a Prototype Microphone whilst shooting at the Imperial College, London.

A small softbox, an umbrella or even a light bounced off a white reflector can create just enough diffusion without scattering the light all around the room. Too much spill on the subject’s body or background will ruin the low-key effect. To fight this, use carefully placed flags. Not only can they prevent spill, they will help to stop lens flare when the light is placed beyond 90 degrees from the camera axis. And that’s often the ideal place for low-key lighting.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to move the light subtly in and out of frame, forward and back, up and down, until the effect is just right. As a world-class portrait photographer once told me, when an image is mostly dark tones, the few light tones really matter even more. So position the key light deliberately to put those highlights exactly where you want them.

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When trying to achieve a black background, you are interested in the amount of light hitting it. Again, pictures tell the story best. Both these photos had only white balance and very small adjustments to balance exposure done in post-processing.

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.

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.

There’s a black-and-white-specific advantage when it comes to dodging and burning a low-key image, too. Using the individual color sliders that adjust the black and white mix, whether that’s in Lightroom’s Develop Module or Photoshop’s Black and White Adjustment Layers, it’s easy to brighten or darken specific areas of an image that correlate directly to the original colors in a scene. Blonde hair, for instance, can be lightened or darkened easily with the yellow luminance slider, even though the image is now grayscale.

Sometimes not only is a studio unavailable, anything indoors is unavailable. But low-key lighting can still be created. Even on a sunny day, you can use a strobe to overpower the sunlight and make the background fall to black. To do this, increase the shutter speed to the maximum sync speed. This is often a shutter speed of 1/250th. Then set the ISO as low as possible (100 or 50, ideally) and set the aperture to the smallest opening (ƒ/22 or ƒ/32, depending on your lens). Take a picture with these settings and check how underexposed the scene is. If you’re able to shoot at 1/250th at ƒ/32 and ISO 50, even on a bright, sunny day, you’re going to create a photograph that’s at least four stops underexposed. There still may be some visual information evident if it’s really bright out, but on an overcast day or any other situation where the light is low, the ambience should be very dark, maybe even pure black. Then you can add your strobe—placed close to the subject—and dial up its output to match the camera settings and create the appropriate illumination for the subject. This “day for night” effect can make practically any location look like a darkened studio.

We are talking about a couple of techy things in hopefully, a non-techy way. These two ideas will give you tips for how to make black backgrounds for your portraits.

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.

Camera settings, lighting, location, and your model’s posing all have to be planned carefully before your photo shoot.

I’m a Photographer Educator, Author, Westcott Top Pro and #1 Best Selling Author of The Photoshop Workbook, Photograph Like a Thief and The Photoshop Toolbox based near Oxford, UK. Read more »

Let’s be clear on some definitions, first. What is low-key lighting? Unlike high-key lighting—which creates a scene that’s very bright and low contrast—low-key lighting is darker and higher contrast. Low-key lighting features prominent shadows and many near-black tones, with minimal midtones and highlights serving as poignant counterpoint to all that darkness. And it works very well in black-and-white.

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.

Low-key lighting can emphasize the contours and shapes of your subject, while drawing the eye to the image more effectively than high-key lighting.

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.

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If your goal is lots of darkness and minimal light, it can also be helpful to ensure your subject is wearing dark clothing, as well. A light-colored outfit will distract from the place in the frame where you want the eye to go: the few pixels that are brightly illuminated, often the face. I use a black cotton or velvet cloth as a drape to camouflage bright clothing and make it easier to achieve a truly low-key scene.

1. If you’re using this technique indoors be aware that once you introduce flash, the light might end up bouncing off light coloured walls which will then light the room up and so destroy your black backdrop. My advice when using this technique indoors would be to restrict where the light falls by using such modifiers as a Honl Speed Grid or a Lastolite EzyBox, or ‘close down’ your reflective umbrella.

Over the past few weeks in preparation for the launch of my new ‘InSight Photography Workshop’ I’ve been running ‘testers’ (mini workshops) with groups of photographers to teach a range of lighting techniques and also to get brutal honest feedback.

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