Color is all around us, and it can be a great tool to convey emotion. Still, thousands of creators committed to black and white portrait photography capture simple and sophisticated photos.
We see the world in color, so why turn to black and white portraits? In this article, you'll get the answer to this question and learn 8 helpful tips on how to improve your own B&W portraits.
Why choose black and white portrait photography?
Black and white portrait photography dates all the way back to the 18th century. Before color photography became widely popular, this was the standard way of capturing human expression.
Today, there are still many fans of B&W portraits. Why would one choose to shoot black and white photos?
Black and white portrait photography eliminates the influence of color on your image. This allows an intense focus on all other components of your image: the model, composition, lighting, and facial expression.
B&W portraits provide an honest, minimalistic, or dramatic depiction of your subject. They can convey meaning and emotion in striking ways that portraits in color might struggle with.
8 tips for beautiful black and white portraits
When preparing to take black and white photos, you must remember to pay attention to details you might gloss over in other types of portrait photography.
Scope out other B&W portraits to get an idea of what you'd want your image to look like. Then consider the following 8 tips to create stunning black and white photos:
1. Pick between shooting in B&W or in color
Should you shoot in color and then later convert your image? If you're looking for maximum creative control, then the answer is yes.
Capturing black and white portraits in-camera is the quick and easy way to get them done. Yet, you'll miss the chance to affect the final look significantly through post-production. More on this later.
If you shoot in color you'll also have the option to use your images in color and compare them to your B&W edit.
2. Use a wide aperture
Without the support of color, it can be difficult to separate your subject from the background.
That's why using a wide aperture, like f/1.4, f/2, or even f/2.8 is excellent for B&W portraits. This setting makes your subject's features stand out, softens the background, and can create a visually interesting bokeh effect.
3. Always shoot in RAW
For optimal control over your image, shooting in RAW is always the preferred option in all types of photography.
This way, you can work with a true digital negative that your camera didn't process in the least. This allows you creative control over the final look and feel of your portrait.
4. Focus on negative space
A striking black and white portrait often utilizes negative space, even more so than color photography.
If you're looking for a simple, polished look that directs all the attention to your subject, consider a blank background. Don't be afraid to experiment with your composition, and provide adequate headspace.
5. Introduce texture
Texture will add to the story you tell with your image. This texture may be present in the nature or brick wall in the background or in your model's clothing or their wrinkles.
The biggest pitfall with B&W portraits is creating something mundane that lacks depth. Introducing texture is an easy way to create depth and a complex image with a message.
6. Pose your model expressively
Posing your model intentionally is crucial in the process of B&W portraits. Since every aspect is intensified, your viewers will notice the smallest movement and expression.
Communicate your vision clearly and respectfully, and establish a good working relationship with your model. Consider how their body language and facial expression will affect the mood of your portrait.
Always focus on your model's eyes and make sure they shine as they catch your key- or fill light.
7. Focus on lighting the scene for B&W
Lighting takes extra importance when it comes to black and white portrait photography.
Planning where and how your highlights and shadows are cast can make a world of difference. Tonal contrast, the difference between the darkest and lightest areas of your photo, plays a crucial part in B&W portraits.
Follow your vision and think about how viewers will feel when looking at your image. Do you want to elicit a feeling of dread or drama? Use a few light sources and play with the shadows. Would you rather have your photo represent hope? Use soft lighting and direct your model to have the right expression.
8. B&W post-production settings
Editing your portraits with programs like Photoshop or Lightroom can elevate them to the next level. Play around with filters and adjust contrast in your post-production phase for more interesting images.
Manipulating your photo's clarity can direct the viewer's focus and add depth. You can also add grain for a classic, film photography-like look.
Experiment with toning and adjusting the control and clarity of your image to draw the viewer's eye and elicit strong emotions.
I hope these tips will help you create the B&W portraits of your dreams. Black and white portrait photography is all about experimentation though, so don't be afraid to break the rules and find your own style.
What is black and white portrait photography?
Black and white portrait photography is a popular genre of portraiture that focuses on composition and subtle details rather than full-blown color.
How do you make a black and white photo portrait?
Creating stunning black and white images requires planning and thinking like a black and white photographer. Consider the composition, lighting, and model directions carefully with the final result in mind. Learn more here!
Why is black and white photography so effective?
Black and white photography eliminates color, allowing the viewer to focus on the subject and composition of your image.