Bl ack & White Portr ai­ture

Learn the es­sen­tials for craft­ing and con­quer­ing the art of black & white por­trai­ture

Digital SLR Photography - - The Beginner ’s Guide -

The beauty of black & white por­traits is you of­ten have the time to con­trol how you cre­ate them. Whilst with land­scapes you’re at the mercy of Mother Na­ture and avail­able light, por­traits can be styled to en­hance con­trast, lit to cre­ate sculp­tural high­lights and spe­cial ef­fects, and po­si­tioned in front of back­grounds that pro­vide depth through tonal sep­a­ra­tion. how you build your por­trait is up to you but there are cer­tainly count­less ways to cre­ate stun­ning mono­chrome por­traits that there’s no ex­cuse for a ‘ flat’ pho­to­graph.

Colours can be used to grab at­ten­tion in a num­ber of ways: throw a red scarf on a sub­ject in a crowd and you’ve in­stantly made them a fo­cal point; or zoom in for a close- up and vi­brant eye colour can be cap­ti­vat­ing. for black & white to work, you need to take con­trol over the play of light and shade to cre­ate con­tours and the style you want. high­lights are per­haps the most im­por­tant for por­traits as it’s where the eyes get drawn to first, for this rea­son it’s im­por­tant with women to cor­rectly ex­pose the skin, or even over­ex­pose slightly, to avoid dull skin tones. how you light for a flat­ter­ing fe­male por­trait is half the chal­lenge: soft, even light­ing will help you il­lu­mi­nate their skin and ex­pos­ing for their skin may also darken sur­round­ing, cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion of an even brighter, smoother skin tone. If your sub­ject has nat­u­rally dark skin, how­ever, which may be ren­dered as a dark mid­tone or even shadow, it’s cru­cial you in­sert some rim or back­light­ing to add def­i­ni­tion. for men, you can be far more dra­matic with your black & white con­ver­sions as well as your light­ing. Side- light­ing is no­to­ri­ous for re­veal­ing max­i­mum tex­ture and de­tail, so if it’s a five o’clock shadow, chis­elled con­tours and char­ac­ter you want to cap­ture, high con­trast is an ab­so­lute must.

Dra­matic light­ing works well for black & white por­traits: back­light­ing for bright high- key im­ages or sil­hou­ettes, rim- light­ing for curves, front- light­ing for skin il­lu­mi­nat­ing por­traits, side- light­ing for strong con­trast and def­i­ni­tion – the op­tions are end­less, whether you use nat­u­ral light or stu­dioflash. your light­ing mod­i­fiers also need to be con­sid­ered, for in­stance if you want a sharp fall- off from light to dark you’ll need to place a bright light with small mod­i­fier close to your sub­ject; but if you want a smooth, soft and wide grad­u­a­tion of tones across your sub­ject’s face, you’ll need to use a much larger and more dif­fused light source.

as much as the light’s be­hav­iour and your back­grounds are im­por­tant for achiev­ing a de­sired ef­fect and level of con­trast, clothes, hair colour and make- up are also cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tions when de­sign­ing your por­trait. Whether it’s a pol­ished por­trait or a de­tailed, grungy head­shot that’s ooz­ing mood, your choice of edit­ing is the last but es­sen­tial stage to mas­ter. We’ll cover a few ap­proaches later but se­lec­tive edit­ing is your friend. What­ever method you use, treat­ing each sec­tion of the por­trait sep­a­rately for ex­po­sure and con­trast whilst watch­ing how it works as a whole is best. bright­en­ing the skin in pro­cess­ing can help, whilst am­pli­fy­ing high­lights in hair, on lips and in eyes in­ject life into de­tails that global ad­just­ment may miss.

Some­times black & white might not be the de­sign, but it can be a sav­ing grace so even if you haven’t shot with mono­chrome in mind, it’s worth a try in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions to hide a mul­ti­tude of sins. If noise ‘ ru­ins’ an im­age be­cause of a high ISO, the wrong White bal­ance, a sub­ject’s un­even skin tone needs more work than you can muster, or you’ve hor­ri­ble colour casts – mono­chrome can be a quick and sim­ple way to save, and pos­si­bly even im­prove, your por­trait.

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