Black and White Portraits
"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 Hildebrandt

by Rudra Mandel

Photo 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 broad light. 

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.
                  & W child  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 images. 

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.

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© 2019 Don Camp