One of the most striking features of black and white portraits is the ability to showcase raw emotion and subtlety. It is only due to the advancement of technology that we can shoot in millions of colors. The beauty of B&W images is that it can strip away any unwanted information from an image. The focus shifts back to the subject when the colors from a picture are muted. Every detail of the subject is highlighted in all its glory. Their expressions and emotions take center stage. B&W portraits manage to bring about an honest and unique perspective of your photos. Lighting plays the most important role and can be the difference between an emotionless picture and a beaming one.
Shooting in B&W, however, can be quite difficult. Not every photograph you take will look appealing and you will need to think creatively to get good at it. You should also consider not shooting in B&W, and instead take pictures in colors and edit it in post-processing. Ideally, it’s better to learn how to shoot for B&W and not how to shoot in B&W. In our guide, we will take a closer look at why you should shoot portraits in B&W, and some tips you can use to enhance your pictures.
Related: Black background photography
Why Shoot Portraits in Black and White?
Despite living in the age of technicolor, monochromatic images still hold a special place in the world of photography. The images are extremely impactful to the viewer and can express a range of emotions. For photographers, shooting in black and white is not just a creative choice, but rather a mindset. One of the most important practices is to create an image in B&W. This means ensuring that there is the right contrast in tonality and lighting, and your subject’s expressions are appropriate. B&W emphasizes the expressions of the subjects and focuses on the eyes. Each image has a story to tell and without the distraction of color, the viewer’s gaze is fixed on the story.
Best Tips for Black and White Portraits
These tips are designed to help you understand the importance of B&W photos. Using them regularly will help you take beautiful monochromatic shots.
When taking B&W pictures, you should remember that your subject should have all the focus. To isolate the subject from the background, use an aperture between f/1.8-f/2.5. This setting creates a very nice bokeh. You should also try experimenting with the ISO setting. Try higher ISO to get a grainy film effect on your B&W portraits. This setting works incredibly well in low-light and helps create a dramatic effect on B&W photos.
The lighting of a B&W portrait tells the story. For more emotion in your pictures, you should try less light and more shadows. Shooting in low-light lends mystery and intrigue to pictures. For a brighter feel, a well-lit location is necessary. Your subject should also be given clear-cut instructions on how you want your image to look. This will help you get the right expression for your photo. If there are any particular kinds of B&W portraits you like, you should research and analyze the methods employed by photographers for those categories of images. Observe the shots and jot down the distinguishing characters that you see. Which of these do you want to keep and which can you do without? Ask yourself these questions before you head out for a shoot.
Composition is critical to the degree of impactfulness of your shot. The right composition can help you create truly stunning portraits. When framing your image, ensure that your background is soft and there are no protrusions that can take the attention away from your subject. The subject should generally be in the center of the frame. As with most artistic concepts, this is not so much a rule as it is a guideline. Feel free to experiment with varying compositions until you find something that suits your fancy.
Post-processing Black and White Portraits
Always remember that the best black and white images are often a product of top-notch post-processing. There is a vast array of highly advanced and user-friendly software at your disposal, and that makes a case for taking pictures in color and editing them later on. Software such as Photoshop and Lightroom have advanced filters, pre-sets, and tools to help you get the most out of your photos. You can also use presets from other photographers to familiarize yourself with the process.
Black and White Portraits: Focus on the Eyes
The eyes can be your subject to convey the emotion you want to show. In black and white photography you minimize the details and textures that you can take especially if you are working with portraits. The eyes, however, are full of detail and can express a variety of emotions. The eyes can be sad, happy, excited, deep, and mysterious, and everything in between. It is your job to direct your subject so you can capture the eyes in the best light. With the right light on the eyes, you can get all the lovely reflections from the eyes that add to depth and detail to portrait shots. The ideal setup to get this kind of light is your subject in the shade, with the face and eyes nearest to the source of light and the fallout into shadow starting from just behind the ears inwards. This ensures that light intensity draws the viewer’s attention to your intended focal point of the photo, which is the eyes. Keeping the surrounding areas free of distraction or using texture to create a certain uniformity around the face can help draw even more attention to the eyes to create an arresting portrait.
Black and white portrait photography is an artistic and creative way to express yourself as a photographer. You will learn that B&W focuses on the expression of the subject and is more about telling a story. Every image is unique, and it tells a story that each viewer will interpret differently. You will appreciate the usage of light, texture, and bokeh through B&W portraits. This sub-genre helps you realize that the absence of color can be a fabulous way to add a whole new level of character to your photographs. There are no set rules when taking photographs and it is up to you to bend it to get the desired results. Taking on B&W portraits will expand your horizons and help you explore the expressionist side of photography.
If you’re looking for black and white portraits inspiration you’ll find it here.
Featured Photo by Samad Ismayilov from Pexels.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.