Shoot Your Next Portrait in Black & White

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

As a creative medium, traditionalists may call it “monochrome” and digital imagers may prefer “grayscale,” but it’s still black and white to me. But there is more to black and white photography than just an absence of color.

Black and white is a wonderful media for making portraits because the lack of color immediately simplifies the image, causing you to focus on the real subject of the photograph instead of their clothing or surroundings.

Sometimes the nature of the subject themselves demands that the image be photographed in black and white. Arnold Newman’s portrait of composer Igor Stravinsky could never have been made in color and have the same impact that is has as a monochrome image.

There are also the trendy aspects associated with creating images in black and white. Movies, TV and fashion magazines periodically rediscover black and white as a way to produce photographs that are different from what’s currently trendy.

Right now, many professional photographers are telling me that they’re seeing a higher than normal demand for black and white portraits that are being driven by demands for both boudoir as well as individual and family portrait portraits, as shown in this angelic portrait of Erin Valakari.

Erin was photographed in my home studio with a Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (at 45mm) with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/10 and ISO 200. Background is from Silverlake Photo. Portrait was converted to monochrome using Silver Efex Pro.

Tip: Filters & Factor

You can control the contrast and how colors are rendered in black & white by using filters either in camera or with plug-ins such as Silver Efex Pro, such as the yellow filter used in the portrait shown. While you could always use on-camera color filters to archive the same effects there are major advantages of using digital filters: While most in-camera metering systems automatically take “filter factors” into consideration, you still have to look through and compose through a colored filter whose factor might range from three and five. In addition, a purely digital solution is an easier one to live because the exposure for no filter is identical to one made with a dark red filter.

In the world of traditional photography, the light loss caused by a filter’s absorption and color density is expressed as a filter factor. A 2X factor means the exposure should be increased by one stop, 3X means one and one-half stops, etc. When using several filters at once, filter factors, aren’t added together but instead are multiplied reducing depth of field or slowing shutter speeds.

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If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere that is available from Amazon.com with, as I write this, new copies selling for $25.13 (Prime) with used copies at $17.47 as I write this.