Shooting Portraits in Black & White

Proving you can change your tune, Paul Simon revised the lyrics to Kodachrome from “everything looks worse in black and white.” When he performed the song in Central Park in 1991 everything looked “better” in black & white.

Sometimes color confuses a viewer taking the focus away from the photograph’s subject, especially in a portrait. And some black and white images, such as landscapes, have more drama when seen as monochrome. Without a blue sky the clouds “pop” creating a more exciting look.

There are many ways to create black & white digital images. You can also capture images just the way you do now—in color—and convert the photograph to monochrome later using software such as Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin’s Exposure. The portrait at right was originally shot in color, using a Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 lens with an exposure of 1/100 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 800. Background is a Savage Translum translucent backdrop that was backlit.

You can also capture black & white images directly in-camera. Most SLRs offer monochrome modes and even toning effects and shooting directly in black and white impacts how you see while making the image. When making portraits, the instant feedback focuses your vision and lets you show your subject what you’re trying to accomplish. You don’t have to explain to the subject that you’ll convert the shot into monochrome later ; it’s already there on the LCD screen! This approach provides an immediacy to the process and you can make B&W prints  using a PictBridge printer or drop your memory cards off at a local Target—capturing the file in black and white saves time.

That’s not to say there’s just one way to capture black and white images. You can capture in-camera or use software to convert color files you already have, giving you yet another creative choice. You get to choose the one that works best, so ultimately it’s your call but now you have


My out-of-print book Creative Digital Monochrome Effects is still available and (I think anyway) is a fun read. It’s available from Amazon for less than six bucks or as used for the bargain price of $2.50.


Author: Joe Farace

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