The Fun of Shooting Monochrome Portraits

by | Apr 26, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“The whole series is black-and-white, so when I went to shoot one of the women I only had black-and-white film with me. She had reddish hair and was a very pretty girl, a nice girl.”— Helmut Newton

When I find myself wondering, “what do I shoot next?” or starting thinking “there’s nothing for me to photograph,” the one thing that I like to do is to shoot some images in my camera’s monochrome mode. It doesn’t have to be all of the images made during a session; maybe just a few to, you know, see what happens.

But what if you change your mind and really really want that original at some later date to be in color?

Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have a RAW+JPEG option that lets you capture a monochrome (JPEG) and color (RAW) file at the same time. Some dual-slot cameras, even let you simultaneously save each file type to a different card. This approach lets you use the JPEG file as a digital proof that you can show the subject and get their opinion as how they look in  black & white and a color RAW file that you can process into monochrome later.

There are some advantages to this, the biggest being that my favorite retouching tools, such as Imagenomic’s’ Portraiture, work better with color image files, because there’s many more tones available for the software to work with. So more often than not when shooting portraits I shoot in RAW+JPEG, retouch then convert the color file to monochrome later using Silver Efex Pro or Exposure X4.


How I made this shot: This portrait of Pamela Simpson giving off some amazing Great Gatsby vibes was  shot in my 11×15-foot home studio using a Canon EOS 60D with EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 65mm.) Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/11 and ISO 200 and .

The main light was a Paul C Buff DigiBee mounted in a Plume Ltd hexagonal Wafer softbox placed at camera right with a Paul C Buff Alien Bee with 48-inch Dynalite Quad Square black/silver umbrella at camera left in the back of my studio. Background was a Savage Gray Floral Printed Background Paper. The RAW file was initially retouched Using Portraiture, then converted to monochrome using the High Structure preset in Silver Efex Pro before tweaking in Color Efex Pro using the Glamour Glow filter.

PS. It’s my pal Barry Staver’s birthday today. Please wish him Happy Birthday today on Facebook or Instagram.

If you’re interested in learning how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere which is available new from for $31.89 or used starting at the affordable price of $3.50, as I write this. The Kindle version is $19.99 for those preferring a digital format.