Ancient Bristlecone Pine by StevenWMartinPhotography - High Contrast In Black and White Photo Contest
High contrast bw with lightroom
High Contrast Portraits Black And White Photography

High Contrast Portraits Black And White Photography High Contrast Portraits Black And White Photography

Creating High Contrast Black and White Photos With Your Smartphone

The look is beautiful and unlike the HDR fad, it’s much tougher to screw it up.

Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid imagery, their absence can as well.

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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.

To be honest, the shooting process is very straight forward due to modern editing’s abilities. Any photo can be turned into a high contrast black and white but the best ones start with details in the highlights. What that means is that you need to typically underexpose a scene.

So why did it make such a comeback? Perhaps it’s because depth of field effects aren’t really simple to get with a phone. The other option is to do it via the editing process.

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.

If your editor allows you to adjust the blacks, whites, shadows or highlights then try to make them deeper. The major points here are your clarity and contrast–and they’ll vary based on the image you’ve shot and what you like in terms of contrast levels. Typically though you’ll be cranking the contrast up quite a bit.

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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?

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“This is such a well spotted image.  It’s a scene that is made for monochrome.  Perhaps a slightly wider lens choice if possible.” – Kevin Mullins

“This image speaks to me from an emotional point of view.  The natural light falling on the face is perfect and the exposure across the whole image is spot on.  Even though this might be more of a candid shot than a portrait its beautifully executed and lovely monochromatic finish.” – Kevin Mullins

“I really love this image and want to find out where the child is going.  He’s having fun, or rushing somewhere?  The exposure is excellent in challenging conditions.  It’s a well seen and well executed image.  The Black and White conversion is perfect and detail is lost in the shadows but only to enhance the image.” – Kevin Mullins

Congratulations Runner Up “black and white” by CliftonTicehurst

MuseCam: One of the most powerful editors on the phone, this app has one of the best interfaces on top of loads of presets.

Congratulations Runner Up “Old Style Workmanship – Queen Victoria Building, Sydney” by philipjohnson

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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.

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.

“Wedding photographer in Lake Como and Lake District, Italy.” by alessandroavenali

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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.

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.

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.

Thank you to all the photographers that shared their best high contrast B&W shots in this photo contest with chances to win your prize choice. A special thanks to friend and professional photographer Kevin Mullins for his collaboration as a guest judge. Kevin is a multi-award winning wedding photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Wiltshire, England. He shoots wedding in a “pure” documentary style meaning he doesn’t intervene, or contrive any image throughout the day. As well as shooting weddings, Kevin is a recognized speaker in the field of wedding photography and the business of wedding photography.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Finally, if you try black and white and you like it: welcome to the addiction!

The really high contrast black and white look comes from film. Kodak Tri-X for example, is pretty high contrast but it’s possible to go even more high contrast. My personal favorite is Ilford Delta–which really makes the blacks oily and the whites milky. Additionally, it’s also very sharp and when combined with good lenses (or certain on-lens filters), can render even sharper photos.

High contrast black and white photos have been used by street photographers for years, then color came into being and then there has been a yearning for that nice, classic look that some of the great masters used.

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  • 26. Jul. 2016

RNI Films: Like the look of film? Just add something like Tri-X or Ilford Delta to an image and edit away to your heart’s content.

“Another epically wonderful image. I really want to study the image and look through its layers.  This image would look wonderful nice and large and framed on a wall.  I love looking at it.” – Kevin Mullins

Creatic: Like MuseCam, Creatic is also a very powerful editor and adds with it its own social network.

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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.

Why are you doing this? Modern cameras (even the JPEGs that phones shoot) have so much detail in the shadows that it really won’t matter.

Congratulations Grand Jury Winner “Miroir d’Eau Pt. II – Sprint” by Vemsteroo

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.

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Adobe Lightroom: Lightroom is an incredible editor that lets you edit your RAW file images that your phone can shoot. Additionally, it has a load of editing options. One of the best features is the syncing it can do to your computer.

Congratulations Amateur Winner “Silky Water” by MarvinEvasco17

Congratulations People’s Choice “Love on the Rocks” by Marshal

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So what do you need to know about editing? First off, what you should know is that you’ll constantly be adjusting your exposure settings. Choose a black and white filter that is either already high contrast or pretty neutral. Then adjust the clarity, contrast, and if you can add grain then do it. Then adjust the exposure to your liking last.

One of the most popular looks that many photographers showcase on the web is the high contrast black and white look.The growing popularity has to do with the fact that it obscures everything else in a scene to a certain point and forces people to focus on the most simple parts of the scene that they really want you to pay attention to.

Black and white strips out of the color to make people really focus on the important details. Of course, it wasn’t always this way–but it’s seen a major resurgence in the digital photography world.

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.

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