Filters For Black And White Portrait Photography

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Filters in black and white portrait photography all three

Getting into Black & White photography with either film or digital? They you really need to see how some of these colored filters for Black & White Photography can improve your photos.

Simply shoot in RAW and in full color and play later with the conversions.

A green filter is also highly effective in yielding better skin tones when taking portraits under tungsten lights or natural light. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.

Here is the effect of the Hoya X0 Yellow-Green filter on a models skin tone and red dress.

For the examples, I enlisted the help of a young friend of mine, Shelby. The first image is a color reference shot. Note that Shelby has a fair complexion and light hair. In the image she is wearing a black shirt as well. The next image, I have turned her slightly and had her look towards me with her hair coming down over her shoulder. This posing change delivers a more slender appearance to your subject. I then wanted to emphasize her long hair, so I had Shelby drape it over her shoulder and look towards my camera. This is a monochrome image – not a color converted image. Note the tones of her hair and her complexion. See how they translate to monochrome.

The issue, however, is that many colors, when captured in B&W, render similar tonal values. For example, some shades of red, green, and blue look completely different in color, but almost identical in black and white. This can cause objects in a black and white image to blend into one another, leaving you with a photo that is flat, lifeless and lacking in both contrast and definition. It is, therefore, necessary to separate them further with the use of contrast filters. Do you see the word I used? Contrast filters! Contrast is what we seek in B&W and these filters are a tremendous enhancement to your work if used properly.

Without getting into the technical aspects of why the filters work, the basic premise is: In order to lighten a color the most, use the same color filter. This being said, B&W contrast filters create some great affects in portrait work, but not all filters are appropriate.

blocking out colors in the background, making person seem brighter to make them pop, or something like that?

The 25A is a deep red filter that passes red and blocks bluish colors so that blue skies are rendered as a much darker gray or even nearly black in a B&W photograph. This filter allows for much stronger contrast to bright out white puffy clouds.

Let me start with primary light colors RGB. As the skin has more red component the skin will look brighter when using a red filter (R) and the oposite hapens when using green (G) or blue (B) filters.

But modern color profiles and conversion tools uses a more complex combinations than simple color filters as you can see on the sliders of a grayscale conversion.

Panchromatic film is already taking into account more green in the light spectrum than red and blue, that are on the extremes of visible light spectrum, so the tendency will look more like the green sample(G)

For portraits an orange filter will reduce the appearance of freckles and other blemished while giving skin tones a smooth, more healthy look. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.

Yellow filters yield the most subtle effects of all the colored filters. They are kind of considered the UV/Protector” of Black & White photography but they do have more of an impact on tones and contrast than a UV filter would. The effect is just strong enough to give a scene a little boost without it being immediately noticeable.

In portrait photography a yellow filter will yield more clear, warm skin tones similar to the orange while still appearing very natural. Its subtlety is the beauty of they yellow filter.

In this case, the default conversion profile renders less contrasted results (P) with more gray tones and gives a result simmilar to the lightness component (From an HSL color model) (L).

It can also be used on leaves to give green foliage more contrast. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.

In Black & White photography orange is considered the general purpose leave in at all times filter. It sits between red and yellow filters and has some effects of both.

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If you use color filter on a digital camera you drasticly reduce the amount of photons to produce an image, the amount of lightness levels and the posibility to play with the grayscale conversion.

You normally use a color filter on film if you wanted to contrast something in the background, like the sky for a more dramatic one using red filters for example.

There are some digital filters and software tools that help you event to simulate how classic b/w films reacted to light, so:

There is a really important diference if you are using film or is a digital photo. I will focus on Digital aspects but will give you an idea of what to expect with film.

If you’re serious about black and white photography and equally as serious about black and white portrait work, then a selection of colored filters is a great addition to your camera gear. They are available on your monochrome camera menu as well, so there is no reason not to experiment. Different complexions may yield different results. In general, using filters will allow you much more control over the way your photos appear, helping you to create a better image in the camera first rather than on the computer later.

The second of my “go to” filters, the green-yellow filter has a very nice effect on reds and red tones, making it work well on skin tones just like the orange filter. It yields slightly more texture giving a more natural look to the image overall. The orange filter on fair complexions can sometimes smooth unrealistically. In the landscape photographer’s kit, this filter helps differentiate between various shades of green foliage.

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The first contrast is in focusing. I use a wide aperture to create a field of focused to un-focused areas of the frame. The second contrast is light to dark. Here I try to place subjects of different tonal values against one another, basically lights against darks. Combining similar tones creates a flat, almost muddy, appearance in the image.

(Original photo:

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Less popular than the other colors but still very useful for specific types of photography. The Green filter is good for lightening the tone of green foliage which can give an other-worldly effect similar, but not has strong as infrared in some situations. Since it renders greens lighter it can be used in the scenic photography but because it also makes skies a lighter gray care should be taken to consider the scene and include as little sky as possible.

George Wilson: Contrast Filters for Black and White Portrait Photography

The method I am using is simply using the primary channel of a colour RGB image.

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I know color filters “block out” colors opposite to the color of the filter, and when used in black & white photography, can brighten or darken the object depending on its color and the color of the filter.

In the first of the contrast filter shots, I have chosen the red filter. These are preferred by landscape photographers and do not normally find their way into my portrait work. In landscape photography, the red filter will turn a blue sky almost black and make clouds jump from the frame (think of an Ansel Adams landscape image) with deep rich blacks and vibrant clouds. Red filters have a very strong effect and greatly increase contrast. They’re often considered too “harsh” for portrait work, but can be used to produce striking creative effects. If you look at the red filter image in the reference set, you will notice a dramatic increase in contrast. Skin tones have lightened and shadows on the eyes have increased. Shelby’s hair has also darkened a bit. In my opinion, the red filter gave less than flattering portrait results.

There are four filter colors that are available in the monochrome menu on the modern DSLR: red, yellow, green and orange. In my camera bag, I carry these as glass filters as well and have expanded the group by one with green/yellow. Yes, I am a traditionalist. I still use glass filters rather than the digital ones. For me it is about control over my images and the exposure. In my bag I also carry an analog light meter, another “ancient” tool for controlling my exposures.

The third contrast is textural. I use the same theory with light to dark, but with opposing textures. Paying attention to the contrasts and getting at least two of the three in your image will produce a better overall photo. In my own work, B&W images are not converted from color in post processing; they are captured using the monochrome setting on my camera with close attention to the three contrasts. Filters in black and white photography are about contrast, but in portrait work – they help with skin tones (textures) and that is how I employ them.

Yellow filters do darken blue skies slightly so clouds pop a little more also this creates a better balance with the foreground.

George Wilson has more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer, and his work has appeared in many national and international publications. Now focusing on nature and wildlife photography, George exhibits his infrared black and white landscape work and teaches photography at numerous art centers, botanical gardens and at the Walt Disney World Resort in his home state of Florida. A key element to George’s work is his dedication to traditional photography as his post processing is strictly limited to tools aligning with the traditional darkroom. To see more of George’s work, visit

This series of filters allows you to better control contrast and the lightness or darkness gray tones of a Black & White picture at the time the photo is taken. This is also known as “the tonal rendition”. By adjusting the tonal rendition at the time of capture there will be less need for post processing with software, that saves time and as the saying goes, time is money.

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Black and white (monochrome) is about contrast. In the late 1970’s I first picked up an SLR, and this formed the basis of my understanding and my methodology. This basic understanding carries through to my work today. Black and white imaging needs contrasts to help the tonal values of various greys to give depth to an image.

Staying with the line of green filters, I now placed the green filter in front of my lens. It is substantially darker than the other filters and resulted in my opening up almost two stops for the exposure. You can see this in the increase of the out of focus area behind Shelby. This filter greatly enhances the contrast and detail across leaves and I use it heavily in my flower work. In portrait work it does affect the natural red tones in complexions. I feel in Shelby’s case it gave too much texture to her skin and lightened her hair just a bit. The skin texture results alone dictate that I not use this with portraits.

The yellow-green filter was another filter that was traditionally considered an “all-around” filter to leave on a lens all the time when shooting Black & White. It has properties of the Yellow filter, such as darkening the tone of blue skies slightly while also lightening green foliage. These properties make it a good filter for “walking around” when shooting with either Black & White film or with a digital camera set in Black & White.

Before we delve into what reach color filter will do the thing to remember is that in Black & White photography the each color filter will render its own color as a lighter gray in a scene while darkening it’s opposite color, also known as is complimentary color. For instance a green filter will lighten greens while absorbing reds rendering them darker.

Edit: I should note I was primarily asking for film black & white photography, but it is always good to know both sides, so answers for digital are also appreciated.

Red filters also render red color has much lighter gray tones then because it passes a lot more red light than any other color increasing the exposure of this color and by doing so, making its gray tone much lighter. In certain circumstances a red car could appear as white in in Black & White when a red filter is used. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.

Next, I switched to the orange filter. This occupies a slot between red and yellow in my filter wallet. It has a nice balance between properties of both and is one of my two “go to” filters for monochrome portrait images. This also is a very good general purpose filter. In portrait photography, however, an orange filter reduces the appearance of freckles and blemishes, smoothing skin for a healthy, smooth look overall. Comparing the unfiltered monochrome image with this, you will notice a very nice change in Shelby’s skin tone.

So I was wondering, when doing b&w photography, is there something like a “go to” color filter for portraits, some that smooths skin tones, etc.? Or is it situational, depending on our lighting conditions, to compensate for color casts caused by environment, or blocking out colors in the background, making the person seem brighter to make them pop, or something like that?

The last yellow filter now comes out of my filter wallet. This was the first colored filter I owned back in my black and white film days. It is a great starter filter, but again has specific uses and effects. This filter produces the most subtle effect of the five colored filters. In some cases the difference is barely noticeable, but it can help to “lift” a photo just enough. In portrait photography, yellow filters produce warm, natural, pleasing flesh tones, like an orange filter but less intense. Note the differences between the skin tones with this and the orange filter. There is slightly more texture in the yellow filter image.

For city scape or scenic photography the orange filter can render blacks as a pleasing tone and increase contrast between different building materials. In scenics the work similar to red filters in that they darken blue skies a little so clouds are more clearly defined and slightly reduce the effect of fog and atmospheric haze.

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IMAGE COLLECTIONS : Filters For Black And White Portrait Photography

Filters in black and white portrait photography all threeThe unfiltered photo left is a faithful representation of the scene but mayView original sizeLook away by dariapitakFilter effects change the look of monochrome pictures particularly lips and skin tones choose a filter with attention to skin tone and the shadows inBy zest of the loganberry untitled by zest of the loganberryNice closeup portrait of a coal miner black and white portraitscoal minersdocumentary photographycharacterBlack and white photographyWhen thinking of black and white photography the worst thing one could think is that black white bw is a photograph without any color