Photographers choose to shoot in black and white over colour for many reasons. Perhaps the most forefront reason would be bringing out emotion. There is an old quote that says “If you want to shoot fashion, shoot in colour, but if you want to shoot emotion, shoot in black and white.” Black and white imagery, has the ability to cut through all the baggage and display both the inner beauty and turmoil, which can be easily be masked by colour photography.

Having said this, there are many colour images that have captured the mood or emotion of a subject perfectly. However, most times the black and white image will stand out that little bit more, offering the viewer a deeper understanding of what the subject is going through.

Like any technique, there are considerations that you should regard that can help to make sure your images have the most impact.

Think in Black and White

black and White

Whilst it is never recommended to shoot the final image in monochrome on your camera, you need to be thinking of the elements you need to create an impressive black and white shot. Things like contrast in tonality, contrast in lighting, and appropriate expressions from your subjects are all elements that are difficult, if not impossible, to fix after an image is taken and these need to be taken into consideration before you hit that button.

If you have trouble imagining what the image will look like in black and white, take a few practice shots in monochrome and make sure all the elements are right. When it comes to taking the final shot though, be sure to use the RAW file format. This way all the image’s colour data will be present in the file. You are then able to switch the image to black and white at the post-production stage, offering you the most versatility with your shot.

The Eyes are the Window to the Soul

black and white

What instantly draws you to the majority of portraits are the eyes. The eyes provide information about an emotional state. When you remove colour from the image, this becomes even more important. In black and white, the image is often broken down into graphic forms and shapes, with the shape of the eye being instantly recognisable. Make sure the subject’s eyes are well lit and that they are in focus.

Feel the Expression

Facial expressions follow closely after the eyes. Removing the distraction of colour from your image leaves the viewer more capable of taking in tiny details – a raised eyebrow, a twitch in the corner of the mouth, a furrowed brow, smile lines around the eyes. Creating a closer relationship with the subject as they are drawn into the emotion the subject is feeling.

Play with Light

When it comes to lighting a black and white portrait image, there are no hard and fast rules. If you like high contrast images with hard gradations in tone, then choose a harder source of light. If you like soft tones and subtler images, then you want a softer light source.

It’s all about personal preference here. If you’re not sure what yours is, try finding the first ten black and white portraits that stand out to you the most and see if you can deconstruct them in terms of lighting.

Add Contrast with Light

black and white images

Contrast is easy to add in post-production. Even mobile apps offer a quick fix in the contrast zone. However, the best way to create contrast is to add it with light. Small adjustments in post-production are fine but try and limit it between +15/-15, rather than cranking that bar all the way up. The idea behind post-production of an image is to keep adjustments subtle.

Removing Colour will not Save a Substandard Image

If the image doesn’t work in colour, the likelihood that it is going to look good in black and white is very small indeed. Colour distracts the viewer from the subject, thus removing the colour from the image is likely to emphasise the flaws that made you question the image in the first place. If the image is not good, don’t try and save it.

Choose Black and White

black and white images

As we said before, an image in black and white should be thought about before the image is actually taken, making sure light, contrast and expressions are as you want them to be. Where subjects are dressed in bright colours or the surroundings are particularly colourful you may want to stick to colour photography, however in that same situation, a portrait showing the sadness of a subject may do better having the distraction of colour removed.

Portrait photography is not about perfection. Whether you are shooting in colour or black and white you want to capture the mood of the subject, their emotion and even their flaws. Portraits are about people and people tell a story. Let you images tell someone else’s story.

© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Claire Ciantar