Seeing in monochrome tips the world on its axis and provides a fresh perspective; almost as if seeing it for the first time. All too often a poorly executed color image is converted to grayscale in a final attempt of saving the image. A great black and white should always be the end goal, not a last ditch effort. Below are some tips for producing strong black and white images.
Keep it simple
Choosing to work in greyscale allows us to hone in and focus on the individual thus making the overall set and scene less important. Keep the aesthetic relatively simple, approach it with a less is more attitude, and choose an aperture and exposure that makes the subject pop when shooting in a busy location.
Continue this mantra all the way through to the editing phase too, as nothing kills a perfectly executed image quite like that of a hack editing job.
Think leather, wool, faux fur and other shiny things that light well in regard to styling. Textured textiles photograph impeccably well and the lack of color information only amplifies the details.
Hair is another key focal point in the image and can be paired with accessories. A properly stylized shoot with various textures will elevate the overall image.
Connection and expression should be the main priority of the image. Encourage the subject or model to over exaggerate their facial expression to ensure that it comes across. Show them the back of the camera to encourage them that their efforts are or are not working and they will more than likely fully commit to the shot. Everything can be there from the styling and the lighting but if the face is dead the entire concept is lost in translation.
Make sure the contrast is fitting
Drama exists in between the shadows and choosing whether or not to make use of them dictates the overall mood. Choosing less contrast and shadows creates a lighter feel with more tonality while embracing more creates an edgier vibe. Bruce Weber and Helmut Newton are prime examples and their works make for great study material. Additionally, high key and low key exposures are great uses of expression.
The use of contrast and shadows is ultimately a personal choice. Take the time to meter properly and create for the sole purpose of a finished image sans color. If aiming for more contrast, push it slightly during the shoot to reduce the need to push it in post.
Perfection is overrated and often translates as mundane across an audience. Imperfections are what pique interest and draw attention to the subtle details throughout a piece. This is easily achieved when working in the unpredictable environment of the outdoors. The blowing wind creates ripples in fabric and movement of the hair while the ever changing light creates different patterns that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
The studio environment is often typecast as perfection as well, however it is the curated imperfections that make it this way. It is an art form to pick and choose which stray hairs make the cut and deciding when the hair needs to be messed up a little bit. Also pay attention to personal imperfections as they are often revered as the most attractive component of a person.
Take the time to simplify the overall frame, eliminate distractions and shift the focus to the subject. It really is all about the small details and limited distractions; the best portraits are the ones that appear seemingly effortless and seem minimalistic.