Black and White Portrait Photography: Pro-Tips

November 18

16 min. to read

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Why would you choose black and white photo portraits in the era of digital cameras, which can accurately capture millions of colors?

Black and white photography seems to be a constant in the history of the medium, while color technology came into widespread use halfway between the first heliograph by Nicephor Niepce and the present day.

There is much debate and argument on both sides, but for me and many others, it is simply a matter of aesthetics. Using black and white is a good way to remove unnecessary information in an image, it helps emphasize special elements for your viewer and gets rid of the distraction that color can be. Portrait photography is a genre in which black and white photography portraits can really shine. As with any technique, there are a few things to consider to make your photo most impressive.

Why Shoot Black and White Portrait Photography?

For many photographers, black and white are more than creative in the post-processing process; it's a mindset. If you start creating an image knowing in advance that you're going to make it a black-and-white photoshoot, you can take steps to make sure that all the elements of a good monochrome photograph are in place before you hit the shutter button. Things like the contrast in tone, the contrast in light, and the appropriate expression of the subject are elements that are difficult, if not impossible, to correct after the picture is taken.

If you find it difficult to imagine what a picture would look right as should a beautiful black and white portrait, then set your camera to “Monochrome” shooting mode. At the same time, it is not recommended to take the final picture in this mode. When you photograph in RAW format, all the color data is saved and will be present in the file, and when you load it into Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, it will be restored. This will just give you an idea of how the image will look better in black and white while giving you maximum flexibility in post-processing.

Black and White Photography Editing Tips

If you're working with a photo, and you feel it's not what you intended, and you ask yourself if it would work in black and white, the answer is no. Don’t forget while using black and white photos portraits often highlights flaws, and a bad photo is a bad photo whether it's in color or not. You should think about these things:

  • Some subjects just cry out to be black and white shot. Others can be less obvious. Bright, strong colors are obviously made for striking photographs, but by removing the color component you can completely change the perception of an object or scene. If you want to draw the viewer's attention to a certain element, color as a graphic component can be distracting. Try removing it. 

  • If you want to create high contrast in your eye-catching black-and-white portrait photo, I suggest you do it with light, not Photoshop. Small adjustments are fine and won't ruin the image, but definitely don't move the contrast slider up to 100. Try limiting it to the +15/-15 range. For certain areas, use the lighting and darkening tools as you see fit. The key to post-processing is subtlety.

  • When it comes to lighting in black-and-white photographs, there are no clear and rigid rules. If you like images with high contrast and a hard gradation in tones, then create a powerful light source.

It all depends on personal preference here. If you're unsure of yours, pick ten black-and-white portraits that you like and try parsing them in terms of lighting.

Black and White Portraits: 6 Amazing Photography Hacks

1. Location

The style and look of the portrait will be influenced by the location. It can be absolutely any location: a park, the street, a studio, or an ordinary living room. You can use any entourage to take creative black-and-white portrait photography outside. Your mood and intention should determine the location of the shoot. It could be a courtyard or sidewalk, a park or wooded area, a crowded street, or an abandoned vacant lot.

2. Light and shadow

For black-and-white portrait photography, it is very important that the light and shadows correctly describe the contours of the face. Dark areas in this style of photography are like black holes. The model should be placed in front of a window so that the light falls on it. The model can also be placed directly on the window sill. This is also a good option. At home, it's best to take pictures during the day. Glasses and curtains are great diffusers, and the bright afternoon sun can give a soft shadow. Using reflectors, you can adjust the lighting. Also, an external flash aimed at the ceiling or a wall can be very useful.

3. Camera settings

For portrait black and white photography, how the camera setting is significant.

You should not use high ISO values. The opposite is true with the aperture. A high aperture value will add depth to the photo. It is better to focus manually. You can get a very interesting effect when taking pictures through wet glass. Moreover, the focus will be appropriate on the model as well as on the drops of water flowing on the glass. 

4. Background

In the indoor black-and-white self-portrait, it's both easier and harder to work. On the one side, you can build any lighting scheme you want and manipulate light and shadow freely, but therein lies the difficulty. One common scheme for black and white photography of people is the high value.

The backgrounds most commonly used in indoor photography are either bright or shadow. For the “main key” of photography, both options will work. It all relied on the emotion that needs to be transferred.

Low-key photos are more dynamic and expressive.

This style of photography uses only a dark background and a single light point. The light is adjusted to illuminate only the model's face. Reflectors should be used to illuminate less important details. In the darkness, the camera aperture may not detect the exposure correctly, so you should work in manual mode.

Photographing black and white self-portraits outside is easier, but you can't get the same results as at home or in the studio. Outdoors, the light is diffuse and the shadows are soft. The lighting is uniform throughout the frame, which means you don't have to struggle with harsh shadows.

5. Communicating with the model

Close-ups are good because they are black and white, and the color structure of your skin and the intensity of your eyes are great.

When taking close-up shots, the most important not to make the same as a documentary photo. Ask the model to change her pose, or tilt and turn her head. Capture the best moments.

6. Editing

After the photo shoot, it's a good idea to tweak the photos in Photoshop. For close portraits, sharpening and brightening would be a good addition. For outdoor photos, it's best to use vignettes. For all types of photos, you should use proper framing. This allows you to remove unnecessary objects from the frame and most accurately place the model in the picture plane.

Shooting and editing black-and-white portrait photography

We have prepared for you a quick guide for perfect pictures:

  • Watch Black and White Cinema. Before you start shooting black & white portraits, you need to get used to and get used to the specifics of color and framing. And there's no better way than to take advantage of timeless classics. Cinematic masterpieces such as “Casablanca” will not only help you have a good time but also give you plenty of great ideas. Don't hesitate to ask established photographers for help either, you can get inspired by the best black-and-white reference photos of famous artists.

  • Shoot in RAW format. With an 11x zoom range, the 18-200 mm is the most successful amateur variable focal length model to date. Canon had previously refused to produce relatively inexpensive superzooms, releasing only one lens in this segment — 28-200 mm F3.5-5.6 (USM) — back in late 2000. And although the 18-200 mm looks similar to its predecessor, Canon engineers applied many new solutions to its design. The increased focal length range of 29-320 mm (35 mm equivalent) and the latest image stabilization system, the same as in the EF-S 18-55 mm F3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S 55-250 mm F4.5-5.6 IS (4-stop, Automatic panning detection). All this was accomplished through the use of a sophisticated optical design consisting of 16 elements in 12 groups, including two UD glasses as well as two aspherical elements, which are designed to minimize chromatic aberrations and provide clear image detail throughout the entire zoom range. Based on the specifications, the minimum focusing distance is 45 cm at all focal lengths.

  • See with a black-and-white gaze. There is another way to get black-and-white photoshoot ideas. As incomprehensible as it may sound, that's how you should look before you take a shot. You don't have to invent new glasses to keep the colors from distracting from the subject. All you have to do is pay particular attention to lines, shadows, and shapes. It is these that make up the composition, which is the foundation upon which all B&W portrait photography is built. 

  • Pay attention to the noise. Not so long ago, low light conditions required flashes, and additional light sources and generally made life difficult for the photographer. Modern cameras, on the other hand, are incredibly capable, even with little light. In addition, do not forget that we always have at hand a lot of programs that can reduce the amount of noise in the photo. And yet, habit trumps rationality, and photographers ignore the noise. However, a true master must take into account all the details, including the annoying dots.

  • Watch the contrast. There may be no such thing as taste or color, but the most outstanding photographs taken in black-and-white model photography tend to include both almost all-white areas and almost all-black areas. By increasing the contrast, you can add depth to the frame, hide unnecessary, distracting details, filter, and emphasize the most important elements. So it is always worth turning the settings (or sliders in post-processing) to compare a more contrasted and a less contrasted frame. The result may surprise you.

  • Look for more grayscale gradients. In addition to B&W portrait photography, there are millions of intermediate colors in the frame, and they all undoubtedly influence the perception of the final eye-catching picture. In order not to make the photo seem monotonous and boring, you should choose objects with enough in-between colors for black-and-white photography. If the object is already selected, you can add shadows, reflectors, and extra light. As a result, you can enhance the image and make it more interesting to the viewer.

Conclusion

We have introduced the reader to the many tips and techniques for creating and editing black-and-white self-portraits and photos. Now you can use them to create your own masterpieces with our tutorial!



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