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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Increasing contrast makes the portrait stronger. A subtle touch is often best. See the result below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download
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.
Filled with doubts, I still persevered and discovered a world that completely changed the way I looked at portrait photography.
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.
This article will equip you with the skills to achieve those visually appealing black and white portraits.
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.
Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid imagery, their absence can as well.
Black and white images often need higher contrast to work than color images. Don’t be afraid to push the Lightroom sliders around to see what works best. See what happens when I convert this color portrait to black and white.
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.
© 2006 – 2018 Digital Photography School, All Rights Reserved / Disclaimer
DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 1. new photography tutorials and tips 2. latest photography assignments 3. photo competitions and prizes Enter your email below to subscribe.
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.
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed
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.
Black and white is a form of simplification because it removes color from the scene. Keep the theme of simplicity going when it comes to composition and lighting.
Texture is also important when shooting in black and white. If your model has smooth skin, you might like to place her against a rough background to emphasize the difference in texture. You should also pay attention to the textures in your model’s clothing.
Landscape Photography Tips Portrait Photography Tips Photo Composition Tips Beginner Photography Tips Photo Post Processing Tips Get Started with Cameras and Gear
I set Clarity to +65 on the portrait below. This brought out the beautiful textures in the model’s beard and shirt. It emphasized the texture in his skin as well, but you can often get away with this in black and white portraits of men.
For example, you can use Silver Efex Pro 2 (a great plug-in to start with because it’s now free as part of the Nik Collection) to add a frame, emulate film or the look of a portrait taken with a 5×4 camera.
Increasing Clarity brings out more texture in the image. The problem with portraits is that too much Clarity can make skin tones look overly textured. This is more of an issue with portraits of women, who will often expect you to use some kind of skin smoothing to make them look beautiful. You have far more freedom when developing portraits of men because you can use Clarity to bring out the texture.
Finally, if you try black and white and you like it: welcome to the addiction!
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.
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:
The best black and white portraits are created in two stages – first when you take the photo and secondly when you develop them in Lightroom. Follow the simple principles in this article and build a good rapport with your model and you’ll be rewarded with timeless, powerful black and white portraits.
This portrait captures a moment of contact between the model and her horse. The expression came near the end of the shoot, after a conversation about her horses.
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.
You can use Topaz Black & White Effects 2 to emulate old processes like cyanotypes or van dyke brown. You can use Alien Skin Exposure X2 for a range of film-like effects. Yet another option for Mac users is Macphun Tonality.
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.
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 enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about processing black and white photos please check out my ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White.
I kept the composition of this portrait simple by using a short telephoto lens (85mm) and a wide aperture to blur the background (f/1.8). I also darkened the background in Lightroom to focus attention on the model.
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.
Familiarising yourself with other people’s editing preferences is a great way to learn or even get out of a creative rut.
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe All our best articles for the week Fun photographic challenges Special offers and discounts Your email is safe with us. We won’t share it with anyone
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.
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.
Move beyond Lightroom by using a plug-in like Silver Efex Pro 2 to create black and white conversions that aren’t possible in Lightroom alone. Plug-ins often have features that Lightroom lacks.
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: Beginner – Intermediate Photography eBook Beginner – Intermediate Photography Video Course Landscape Photography eBook Landscape Photography Video Course Photography Blogging (Service) 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!
But while you are doing so, pay attention to her expressions. What subjects make her eyes light up with enthusiasm? How does her expression change when you talk about different topics? What unconscious gestures does she make while talking about things she likes? Pay attention and try to capture those intimate moments that reveal character.
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.
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.
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.
You need to ignore colors and see the scene in terms of highlights and shadows. An easy way to do this is to switch your camera to shoot in monochrome mode. Make sure you have image quality set to RAW in case you ever decide to develop a color version of the portrait (RAW files retain the color information).
Keep an eye out for these things when you take photographs as they’ll greatly complement your subject’s poses and enhance your compositions.
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.
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.
In monochrome mode, a digital SLR displays your photos in black and white when you view them on the camera’s LCD screen. This will help you see whether the composition is working in black and white, and how the colors in the scene translate to gray tones.
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
Black and white tests your ability as a photographer. You can no longer rely on color to carry the photo if the composition is not as strong as it could be. The two most important elements of a black and white portrait are tonal contrast and texture.
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.
Your editing style is probably different to mine, but there are some tricks that every artist with an editing program can benefit from.
All of the photos you see in this article were taken in natural light, sometimes with the assistance of a reflector. The more complex your lighting, the more your attention will be diverted from your model.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tips for Culling Your Photos – How to Throw Away the Worst and Concentrate on the Winners
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.
Keep backgrounds as uncluttered as possible. Don’t be afraid to move in close and use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. Simplifying the composition removes distractions, emphasizing your model.
Black and white is a powerful and expressive medium for portraiture. The absence of color seems to allow us to see deeper into the soul and reveals the model’s character. Black and white portraits often have a timeless quality that adds to the expressiveness of the portrait. But working in black and white is challenging because you have to learn to see in what’s essentially a new medium.
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.
5 Simple Ways to Create Expressive Photos in Black and White Tips for Black and White Wildlife Photography Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category
Tonal contrast is the difference in brightness between the different areas of the photo.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Once you have made the portrait then you need to reveal its full potential in post-processing. There are lots of techniques that you can use in Lightroom, but I’d like to concentrate on two main areas.
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.
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.
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.
Camera settings, lighting, location, and your model’s posing all have to be planned carefully before your photo shoot.
If your camera has an electronic viewfinder (like a mirrorless camera) it will display the scene in black and white before you even take the image, making it even easier to see if the composition is working.
5. Use a plug-in like Silver Efex Pro 2 to take your portraits further
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.
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.
Keeping your approach to composition and lighting simple gives you time to talk to and build rapport with your model. This is very important because ultimately it matters little if your composition and lighting are brilliant but your model seems bored or disinterested. It helps if you are genuinely interested in your model’s life. Ask her questions about what she does, what her hobbies are, and so on. Once you get going you will find interesting things to talk about.
The real magic of black and white photography happens when you start editing.
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe All our best articles for the week Fun photographic challenges Special offers and discounts
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.
Don’t forget that you can apply Clarity as a local adjustment. In the next portrait, I used the Adjustment Brush with the Soften Skin preset (Clarity -34, Sharpness +9) to smooth out the texture in the model’s skin. The screenshot on the left shows the area covered by the mask.
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.
In this recent article by dPS author Yacine you get some tips from his perspective and style: How to Create Good Black and White Portraits. Here are 5 more tips for you to continue learning. Once you understand the following five key concepts and you’ll be well on your way to creating beautiful monochrome portraits.
In the portrait below, the model’s smooth skin contrasts with the rough texture of the concrete wall she is leaning against.
This portrait uses tonal contrast by placing a model with fair skin against a dark background.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.