The Black and White Portrait

In the days of film, everything was shot in color, with our only option for converting color to black and white were a few paper types that were design for this and none of them produce that great of results.  When you wanted to create a black and white image you had to take it on black and white film to get professional quality look.  It really wasn’t easy a finding lab to print black and white properly, so the whole ordeal made it “special” in a way.  When someone wanted a black and white session, there was more planning that went into it.  Since you were just working with tone and not color,  the fabric that clothing was made out of,  the luster of satin, silks, the reflectivity of sequence made clothing much more important to set the overall look of the image.  Backgrounds had to visually converted in the mind to see what it would look like without color.  The bottom line was it wasn’t easy, so photographers made sure it was done properly.

Enter into the digital world, where most working photographers think of black and white as a simple conversion done in Photoshop or Lightroom with the stroke of a key.  Any client can see any image in black and white in a matter of seconds.  It has become so easy, many photographers don’t take the time to plan an image in black and white, it’s created by chance, looking like a color image that has lost it’s color.  My god, I see seniors with sweaters on, looking like they were doing their yearbook photo converted to black and white in their final portraits!  This is a color image that lost it’s color, not a professional black and white image.

Clients like black and white image for their unique look, that unique look has to be coordinated with everything within the frame.  A girl in sweater against a classic portrait background in black and white…..that is kind of like a girl in an elegant dress and flat shoes.  Some has given up on fashion and it shows.  When I plan a black and white pose, I start with the client’s clothing.  To me, a black and white should be taken in solid tones, without print, unless the print will add to the look of the portrait.  I prefer if a woman wears a clothing type that is has a luster, satin, silk, sequence, leather, etc. or a heavy texture for men or woman.

I prefer my black and white image have a fashion look, so the background is most often simple, drawing the eye to the subject. Since I am creating a more fashion looking portrait, I use more fashion oriented lighting.  Instead of more standard studio lighting, I use butterfly lighting, spots and ring lights to complete the look I am creating.  When I am done, the black and white I create for my clients look like it was designed to be a black and white image, not a color image that lost it’s color!

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on December 5, 2010.

One Response to “The Black and White Portrait”

  1. Thanks my thoughts too, I always see in black and white when I want to change it, have goofed in lightroom and thanks for the tips and reminders.

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