"There is something
magical about it, especially black and white
portraits. Some of the masters
of photography only worked in black and
white (some because that's all there was at the
time, some by choice)." Darlene
by Rudra Mandel
Black and white portraits excel when they
show the texture in the subject. For that to happen the
light must be hard, harder than is necessary for a good
color portrait. Notice the texture in the man's
face in the photo above. That texture shows because the
light is coming from a narrow light rather than a
What is a narrow, hard light? It is a light
that is small and bright enough to be the one
significant source of light in the scene. The sun is a
narrow, hard light. It is small in the sky, only the
size of a dime from our perspective. If it is the
primary light in a scene with little reflected light, it
creates strong shadows. And shadows reveal texture.
A soft and broad light, on the other hand, is like a
cloudy sky. The light is coming from the whole sky, and
there is very little texture visible in the scene.
Usually photographers avoid strong sunlight and prefer
softer light because the colors are more vivid. But
in black and white photography, texture is your
friend, and a strong hard light will create a dramatic
scene or portrait.
Lighting and black and white alone do not make a
portrait dramatic. You need a dramatic subject. A child
in autumn leaves can be rendered in black
and white, but it usually does not make a dramatic black
and white photo. It is better in color.
A child playing in the leaves is just not dramatic. So
for this project, choose a subject that is dramatic and
then use light that will capture the drama.
You will almost certainly need to edit and enhance the
portrait for the best final black and white image. Our
digital cameras take photos in color and they are
programed to make the best color picture possible. Most
are not programed to make great black and white
Your portrait will need to be improved for black and
white by increasing the contrast and burning or dodging
or layering to make the image sparkle.
That makes a better black and white portrait, but
the subject still in
not a great black and white subject.
See this video about how to make a good black and white
portrait in GIMP in about four easy steps.