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Black and White Portraits

Black and white portraits are timeless, no matter what the genre.

Black and white photographs always seem timeless. I’d say that’s because of the history of photography, and traditional photography developed black and white results.

And while photography moved into colour, and now digital, there is still so much power in a black and white portrait. People still love black and white family photos, and they certainly look great framed on the wall in a traditional white mat, too. 

I find that studio portraits can be extremely impactful in black and white too. There’s a bit of a classy feel about black and white portraiture, and in a studio we can control tone so precisely. It’s easy to get rich dark backgrounds, to create contrast with lighting, and control the mood of an image. 

How to have an impactful black and white portrait:

If you are wanting black and white portraits, the best way to make them impactful is to plan ahead.

Photography is about consideration of many things. Not just pose and expression, but the composition, lighting, contrast, and the areas of lightness and darkness.

That final consideration is especially important in black and white photography. 

Depending on the overall mood and tone of the portrait, different levels of darkness and brightness will help balance a black and white image.

Many have said that a black and white photograph should showcase a range of tones – from true black to pure white, but with a nice balance too.

Low Key Black and White Portraits:

A low key portrait is an image that consists mostly of darker tones. The weight of the colour tones goes towards the blacks.

These images can come across as striking and moody. In portraiture, they can help draw attention to the lighter areas (if that be a face, a profile, an eye – for some examples).

The above portrait of Noah is an example of a low key portrait. There is a dominance of darker tones, and we’re drawn towards his face and expression because of it.

As a portrait, it works well in showcasing a sense of cohesion. The absence of colour allows us to not be distracted.

Similarily, showcased in more of a headshot, the blend of darker tones surrounding the woman in this portrait gives striking focus to her face, eyes and expression.

I like how the catchlights (highlights) in her eyes creates the main highlight of the image. They’re the brightest points, and so immediate they draw us in. 

 Brighter Black and White Portraits:

In saying all this, black and white portraits don’t always have to be moody! They can be lighter, with a bright and airy feel to them.

The portrait below was captured on a paler backdrop, but there is a balance of tones with what these two are wearing. This still gives a great balance of dark tone and bright tones across the image, for an impactful image.

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