Black and white portraits come in and out of style. With so many apps that you can click to change the filter/look of an image people are creating black and whites out of most any shot.
What Makes A Great Black and White Photograph?
Can any color shot look great as a black and white? No. You can certainly make any color image a black and white but that doesn’t mean it’ll look great. I remember shooting my first roll of black and white film during my teen years. I photographed some scenes, a few people outside then sent off the film (I didn’t have a darkroom in those days). When I got the images back boy was I disappointed. They were really flat—grays and no real blacks and whites—no contrast. From then on I vowed to learn how to make a greatblack and white photograph—something I’ve been doing for more than 30 years now. I moved from film which I processed and printed myself to digital. With digital people always just assume you just click a button and boom you get a fantastic image. Not true. In fact I usually can tell the amateurs and beginning pros who do this very thing. The resulting image just lacks a certain something.
How to Create a Black and White Photograph
Where do you begin—well first of all I always tell people to look at whatever it is you are wanting to photograph—what attracted you to the scene—is it soft pastel colors or brightly lit ones? If so then it won’t necessarily be great as a black and white because it’s the color that attracted you in the first place. But if you gravitated towards light and shadow then you are on your way. Much involves understanding colors (after all that’s what we see in) how they relate and how they translate into black and white.
For black and white portraits —which I primarily shoot in studio—I gravitate towards darker backgrounds and clothing on the subject with more dramatic lighting. That’s just my style. You don’t need to necessarily wear black clothing—in fact other colors can work much better: grays, maroon, deep green or navy. The key however is solid colors—no stripes and patterns. To create the black and white portrait I take the RAW image and go through several steps during post production to give the image the classic black and white film look. So it’s not a quick process at all but produces a quality portrait that is art and can hang on your wall.