Do you find yourself wondering how do those professional photographers use to create such stunning black and white portraits? I can remember way back then that my love for photography started as a result of my aunt's white and black portraits. If you really want to know how to capture emotions in your photography, you should learn how to create good black and white portraits; no wonder they used to say if you want to shoot fashion, shoot in colors but if you can to shoot emotion, shoot in black and white!
Personally, I love black and white portraits; they are devoid of all those clutter and noise that you see in some colored portraits. Black and white images will hit me nine times out of ten in a place where the color photography just cannot reach.
But here is a mistake most beginners make! They think black and white photography is easy until they produce their first image and will be like -- Oh, what is that? On the other hand, you find photographers wondering whether to convert a photograph to black and white or just leave it in colors?
Well, my personal take on the topic has always been to convert it to black and white if the color did not match, has too many distractions or not so good. Black and white can help you mask a lot of errors in photography. In fact, if you learn how to do it well, you can turn an ugly distractive portrait into adorable eye-catching portrait.
Still wondering how you can achieve that? Read my guide below on how to create stunning black and white portrait:
1. Plan to Make it Black and White in Advance
Black and white shouldn’t be as a means of correcting awful colored portraits. No! Even before you take up your camera to snap, you should already have it in the back of your mind that your portrait is going to be in black and white. When you have it in mind, you'll then take steps to ensure that every element of a good monochrome image are in place before you hit the shutter button.
Note that you may find it difficult to set things such as contrast in lighting, the contrast in tonality and even appropriate expressions from your model after you take the picture. It is, therefore, important to have these elements set in advance.
2. Put More Emphasis on the Eye
Check out all the stunning black and white portrait you've seen before. One thing they have in common is the eyes that that stood out. The beauty of every black and white portrait is capturing the eye properly. The reason for this is that the lack of color in black and white will break down your image into just graphic forms and shapes. Eyes are easily recognizable and they draw immediate focus from those looking at the portrait. Thus, before you take your shot, make sure that the model's eyes are well lit.
3. Shoot in RAW
For me, there is occasion when I set out to shoot for black and white only to change my mind later when editing the portrait. Of course, the only you can change your mind is if you shoot in RAW. Shooting in RAW will allow you to edit as you deem fit.
4. Make Appropriate Lighting Considerations
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to lighting in a black and white portrait. It totally depends on your preferences. Let me break this down, if you want to achieve soft tones and subtle images, you will need a softer light source. On the other hand, if your aim is to achieve high contrast images with hard gradations in tones, then I will recommend you use a harder light source. Like I said, it is a matter of preference, if you are not sure what you want, look for a really good white and black portrait and see if you can figure out the lighting in that image.
5. Try Adding Contrast with Light
Listen, if your goal is to create high contrast black and white photos, I will recommend that you add the contrast with light and not in Photoshop. You do not need to take the contrast slider all the way to 100, just make small global adjustments and it will definitely not hurt your portrait. Limit it between +15/-15.
6. Consider the Following Camera Settings
I found this camera setting to be effective for me. You may have your own preferences or have another professional photographer tell you otherwise, either way, you may choose to consider the one I use.
I use a fast lens for black and white portraits and shoot as close to wide open as possible. The aperture is usually somewhere between f/1.4 and f/2.2 and sometimes f/3.2 Set the shutter speed to "situation" and lock your ISO on 400 or thereabout. You can make adjustments as you deem fit once you start shooting. Note that you will have an instant feedback from your shots if you set your camera to shoot in black and white.
7. Consider Making Simple Post Processing
You don't need to do heavy post processing if you have put everything in order before taking your shot. What you need to do is to adjust the exposure of your image, then convert to black and white. Next is to deepen the blacks and shadows in the portrait using a tone curve or sliders in the case of Lightroom. You may choose to add a bit of a fade before you sharpen the portrait. When you are done, you can retouch/remove all blemishes in the image and even out any skin discolorations. This will do it for you if you want to go further to make the portrait pop then dodge and burn the image.
The key to getting the best black and white portrait is in camera settings and getting a good expression and pose from your subject. Since the objective of black and white portrait is to capture the mood, the emotion and the drama, you must make sure that these things are not lacking before taking your shot.
** NOTE ** If you’d like to know more about this subject, learn more about the essential guide to black and white photography, to help you bring the timeless art of black and white photography to the modern science within your camera.