Shooting Portraits in Black & White


1/6 sec at f/5 and ISO 1250

There is much more to black and white photography than simply an absence of color. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if the first photographs had been made in full color,but that didn’t happen and, like many photographers, I grew up admiring the works of W. Eugene Smith and other black and white photojournalists who photographed people at work, play, or just being themselves. As a creative medium, traditionalists may call it “monochrome” and digital imagers may prefer “grayscale,” but it’s still black and white to me.

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 portrait subject 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.

Silverlake Photo's Carbonite background

1/60 sec at f/11 and ISO 200

There are also the trendy aspects associated with creating images in black and white. MTV, motion pictures and fashion magazines periodically “rediscover” black and white as a way to reproduce photographs that are different from what’s currently being shown. Right now, many professional photographers are telling me that they’re seeing a higher than normal demand for black and white portraits than previously was the case. Individual and family portrait purchases like these are driven by these same trends.

You can control the contrast and how colors are rendered in black & white by6 using filters. While you could always use real color filters on your camera to archive the same effects there are major advantages of using digital filters: While most in-camera metering systems automatically take “filter factors” (See “Filter Factor” below) 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.

Tip: Filter Factor: 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

Author: Joe Farace

Share This Post On