Black and white portraits convey emotions and details like no other. Let’s discover how to get the most out of your black and white portraits in this article
Related: Black background photography
Why Black and White Portraits
Black and white portraits are dramatic and evoke feelings and that color images often fail to convey. This is the reason why black and white photography is still a popular field of photography even among photographers who regularly shoot in color. Black and white images help you see images differently because you don’t have the luxury of color. Stripped to the basics, you train your eye to see other important elements of a subject such as the play of light and shadow, lines, shapes, the presence of textures among others. Black and white portraits also have a classic and timeless quality to them. Black and white photos do not come with the color qualities or schemes characteristic of modern photography trends. Without these color schemes or profiles, it becomes harder to pinpoint when a photo was taken.
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.
Lighting is a major factor with black and white photography because light helps you achieve the atmosphere you want to create. Highlight, shadows, grays, and totally black areas all come together to create a dramatic, emotional image. The great thing about black and white portraits is that you can also get creative with the play of light and shadows and their effect on your subjects. Aside from using light and proper positioning to emphasize the eyes and make it pop from the rest of the portrait, you can also use light to emphasize certain facial features and keep the rest in the shadow. You can also use different shadow patterns and reflections on your subject for a more interesting portrait. You can use light to create a dramatic mood or exploit the surroundings to create a story around the portrait. For example, shooting a profile of your subject facing a window with rays of light shining through creates a powerful story within an image with expert use of the subject’s surroundings.
Black and White Portraits Camera Settings
Camera settings matter because you want to avoid over or underexposures and you want the focus of your subject to be sharp. But other than that you can pretty much get creative with what you take when shooting black and white images. Opt for a fast lens that can give you great depth of field, sharp images, and creamy backgrounds. You can also adjust settings to capture movement. Adjusting the shutter speed can help you create dramatic photos capturing motion. It is best if you shoot in straight black and white by putting your camera in this mode. Shooting this way gives you instant feedback and you can adjust the settings accordingly if you see that you need to adjust exposure, contrast, sharpness, and the like.
Black and White Photo Editing
Post-processing can be easier with black and white photos since you are working with the basics. If you are working with a color photo you can simply convert to black and white and make more specific changes from there, such as increasing contrast, adjusting shadows and highlights, sharpening soft areas, increasing clarity, and other changes. You can even adjust exposure and tonal contrast to highlight areas and make the image pop. All these also become easier if you take a black and white image straight from the camera.
If you’re looking for black and white portraits inspiration you’ll find it here.
Featured Photo by Samad Ismayilov from Pexels.