Black and white portrait photography tips
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Black and white portrait of a young woman wearing a hat and glasses there is
7 tips for black and white portrait photography
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Tips On Black And White Portrait Photography.

Try Long Exposure. Long exposure shots may work really well in monochrome photography, especially where there’s moving water or clouds. During the exposure the highlights of the water, for example, are recorded across a wider place than they would with a short exposure and this could help enhance tonal contrast. The blurring of the movement also adds textural contrast with any solid objects in the frame. If required , use a neutral density filter such as Lee Filters’ Big Stopper or Little Stopper to decrease exposure and extend shutter speed (by 10 and 4 stops respectively). typically , when exposures extend farther than on the subject of in connection with 1/60 sec a tripod is required to keep the camera still and avoid blurring. It’s also advisable to use a remote release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibration and produce super-sharp images.

Shoot RAW + JPEG. The greatest monochrome conversions are fetched up at by editing raw files which have the full colour information, but if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously and set the camera to its monochrome picture Style/Picture Control/Film Simulation mode you get an indication of how the image will look in black and white. As numerous photographers struggle to visualise a scene in black and white, these monochrome modes are an invaluable tool that will help with composition and scene assessment. many cameras are also capable of producing decent in-camera monochrome images these days and it’s worth experimenting with image parameters (usually contrast, sharpness, filter effects and toning) to find a look that you like. Because compact method cameras and compact cameras show the scene seen by the sensor with camera settings applied, users of these cameras are able to preview the monochrome image in the electronic viewfinder or on rear screen before taking the shot. DSLR users may also do this if they activate his camera’s live mental picture channel , but the usually slower responses mean that most will find it preferable or check the image on the screen post-capture.

Take Control. Although coloured filters should still be used to manipulate contrast when shooting digital black and white images, it’s more prominent to save this work until the processing stage. Until a some years ago Photoshop’s Channel Mixer was the favored means of turning colour images monochrome, but now Adobe Camera Raw has more powerful tools (in the HSL/Grayscale tab) that allow you to adjust the brightness of eight individual colours that make up the image. It’s possible to adjust single of these colours to make it anything from white to black with the sliding control. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the whole image when adjusting a particular colour as crafty gradations may become unnatural looking. And adjusting the brightness of a red or pink shirt with the red sliding control, for instance , will have an impact on the model’s skin, especially the lips. The Levels and Curves controls could also be used to manipulate tonal range and contrast, but the HSL/Grayscale controls allow you to create segregation between objects of the same brightness but with varied colours.

Look for Contrast, Shape and Texture. The complimentary and opposing colours that bring a colour image to life are all reduced to black and white or shades of grey in a monochrome image and you have to look for tonal contrast to make a shot stand out. In colour photography, for example, your eye would instantly be drawn to a red object on a green background, but in monochrome photography these two areas are likely to have the same brightness, so the image looks flat and dull straight from the camera. happily , it’s possible to work adjust the brightness of these two colours discretely to introduce some contrast. However, a great starting point is to look for scenes with tonal contrast. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule look for scenes that contain some strong blacks and whites. This can be achieved by the light or by the brightness (or tone) of the objects in the scene as well as the exposure settings that you use. The brightness of the bark of a silver birch tree for example, could inject some contrast (and interest) in to a woodland scene. Setting the exposure for these brighter areas also makes the shadows darker, so the highlights stand out even more. Look for shapes, patterns and textures in a scene and move around to find the most excellent composition.

Use Filters. Graduated neutral density (AKA ND grad) and polarizing filters are merely as useful in monochrome photography as they are in colour. In fact, because they manipulate image contrast they are arguably more useful . An ND grad is collaborative when you require to retain detail in a bright sky while a polarizing filter may be used to decrease reflections and boost contrast. Alternatively, look on taking two or more shots with diverse exposures to create a high dynamic range (HDR) composite. Don’t be anxious to use a ND grad with a standard neural density filter if the sky is brighter than the foreground in a long exposure shot. Coloured filters, which are an essential tool for monochrome film photographers, could also be advantageous for manipulating contrast in digital images. They work by darkening objects of her opposite colour while lightening objects of her own. An orange filter, for example, will darken the blue of the sky while a green one will lighten foliage.

Dodge and Burn. Dodging and burning is a pathway that comes from the traditional darkroom and is usually used to burn in or darken highlights and hold back (brighten) shadows. Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools allow a level of control that film photographers may only thought of taking a degree of because you can target the highlights, shadows or mid-tones with both. This means that you could use the Burn tool to darken highlights when they are too bright, or the Dodge tool to brighten them to grow local contrast. It’s a good idiosyncrasy of sharing a sense of better sharpness and enhancing texture. Plus, because you could set the opacity of the tools, you can build up his effect gradually so the impact is subtle and there are no hard edges.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

5. Use a plug-in like Silver Efex Pro 2 to take your portraits further

Increasing contrast makes the portrait stronger. A subtle touch is often best. See the result below:

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 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.

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.

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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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.

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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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tonal contrast is the difference in brightness between the different areas of the photo.

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.

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.

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.

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This portrait uses tonal contrast by placing a model with fair skin against a dark background.

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.

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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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.

In the portrait below, the model’s smooth skin contrasts with the rough texture of the concrete wall she is leaning against.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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