7 Tips for Shooting Dramatic Black and White Portraits

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published August 10, 2022

Toronto photographer Robert Lowdon

In this article, we’ll give you 7 tips for shooting dramatic black and white portraits. We will cover topics like choosing the right location, using filters and gels to add color accents, and post-processing your photos for the best results.

If you are looking to be a better black and white portrait photographer, these tips will help you take stunning black and white portraits that are sure to impress.

According to the ILFORD Photo survey, while 33% of participants only shoot in black & white, most shooters (64%) use both black & white and color photography. The younger audience (<44) leaned towards color with only 24.1% exclusively B&W and 72.1% shooting both, versus the 45> age range with 47.3% B&W only and 51.4% shooting both.

Shooting in black and white ( monochrome ) can give your portraits a dramatic, moody feel that can be very appealing.

Here are 7 tips to help you get started:

1. Shoot in RAW for the most flexibility when converting to black and white.

With black and white photography, it’s important to capture as much detail as possible in order to create a high-quality image. RAW files give you the most flexibility when converting to black and white, so make sure to shoot in RAW whenever possible.

A RAW file is an image file that hasn’t been processed yet. It contains all of the data captured by the camera’s sensor, which gives you more flexibility when editing the photo later on. This is why it’s important to shoot in RAW whenever possible, so you can have the most control over the final image.

2. Use a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and create more contrast.

A polarizing filter can be a great tool for shooting black and white photos. It helps reduce reflections and create more contrast, which can give your photos a more dramatic look.

A polarizer can really enhance a photo or it can destroy it. Be careful when using one for portraits as the skin tones might come out a little weird if you are not careful.

3. Experiment with different depths of field to control the mood of your portraits.

When taking a black and white photo, the depth of field is an important tool for controlling the mood.

A shallow depth of field keeps the focus on the subject and blurs the background, which can create a feeling of intimacy or isolation.

A deep depth of field, on the other hand, keeps everything in focus and can be used to create a feeling of openness or connection to the location.

Experiment with different depths of field to see what works best for the mood you’re trying to create.

4. Choose a location with interesting textures and lighting to add interest.

When choosing a location for a photo shoot, it’s important to keep an eye out for interesting textures and lighting. Black and white portraiture does well with high-contrast scenes.

A brick wall covered in vines, for example, can provide an interesting backdrop with a lot of visual interest.

Likewise, shooting in the golden hour can create beautiful and unique lighting effects. By paying attention to these details, you can help add interest to your photos and make them more eye-catching.

5. Use gels or filters to add color accents to your portraits.

If you want really dramatic black and white portrait photography consider using colored filters. With black and white film you can use red, orange, and green to really increase the contrast. A red filter will make the sky almost appear black.

If you are shooting black and white portraits digitally you’ll need to do this in post. These filters don’t work well with digital cameras, unfortunately.

6. Shoot some portraits in color for variation.

Although black and white images can be very striking, it’s also important to experiment with shooting some portraits in color. This can add variety to your portfolio and help you create different moods with your photos.

Certain photos will do better in black and white than in color. And vice versa. So shoot in both and see the difference.

7. Post-process your photos using software like Lightroom or Photoshop to enhance the contrast and mood of your black and white portraits

Post-processing your black and white portraits can help to enhance the contrast and mood of your photos. Software like Lightroom or Photoshop offers a variety of tools that allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and shadows of your photos.

You can also use these programs to add grain or vignetting to your photos, giving them a more vintage look. With a little practice, you’ll be able to create stunning black and white portraits that are full of emotion and atmosphere.

Conclusion

Black and white portraits can be very striking, and by using the tips in this article you’ll be able to create even more amazing photos.

Experiment with different depths of field, locations, and lighting effects to see what works best for your style.

Don’t forget to post-process your photos using software like Lightroom or Photoshop to enhance the contrast and mood of your images. With a little practice, you’ll be able to create stunning black and white portraits that are sure to impress.

Also, check out or comprehensive list of different photo techniques. If you have questions, leave a comment below.

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