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Tips & Tricks

3 Tips When Photographing Black Clothing Against a Black Background

By Jamie Davis Smith on January 17th 2014


A black backdrop is a classic in photography and can create a dramatic effect. Wearing dark colored clothing is a must to retain the powerful feeling of such portraits. But, if you’re not careful, photographing someone wearing dark clothing in front of a dark background can result in the look of a floating head or shapeless blob.  A few simple tips can help you avoid these undesirable looks and achieve a striking photograph with a timeless look.

black-clothing-background-4Photo provided by Shutterfly

How to Take Photos of Subjects Wearing Black Clothing with a Black Backdrop

1. Keep It Simple

When shooting a portrait of someone in black clothing against a black background, the face is the undisputed focal point. Anything that can distract from the face will look out of place. Large jewelry, intricate hairstyles, and props should be avoided as they will draw the eye away from the face. Simple accessories can enhance the look of a portrait, add personality to the finished photo (if they are used sparingly), and to enhance the model. Anything too white or too bright will distract from the face, so stay away from white earrings, pendants, and cufflinks.

[REWIND: Benoit Courti’s Expressive, Hauntingly Beautiful B&W Series, ‘Deep Black’]

black-clothing-background-1Photo Provided by Gabriel S. Delgado C.

2. Differentiate the Clothing from the Background

Although black clothing in front of a black backdrop is desirable, you will want to ensure that they do not appear to be made from the same fabric. Texture always adds interest to photographs and a black shirt with some subtle and simple texture can help you avoid the look of a head floating in space. You should avoid turtlenecks, but wearing shirts that show a little skin, such as a V-neck or button down shirt with the top couple of buttons undone will make it clear that there is a person with a body in front of the dramatic backdrop and not just a head. Remember that a little skin is key. You want to avoid showing too much skin as bare arms or legs will be bright and draw attention away from the face. Advising your model to wear long sleeves and pants or dark-colored stockings will avoid this problem.

black-clothing-background-3Photo Provided by Jay DeFehr

3. Use Lighting to Your Advantage to Create Separation

Creative lighting can be used to create contrast. Oblique lighting or side lighting can be used to show detail. One way you can use this to your advantage is by using side lighting to bring out the details in your subject’s hair or clothing to create separation between the person being photographed and the background. This can be done using either an off-camera flash or available natural light. Similarly, an off-camera light or available light can be used to light the subject from behind. This illumination will help create a clear separation between your model and the background.

black-clothing-background-2Photo Provided by Timo Kohlenberg

I hope that these tips help you when shooting a subject wearing black clothing against a dark background. What are some of your tips?  Would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.

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Jamie Davis Smith is a contributor for the Huffington Post , Shutterfly, and The Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Washington D.C. and loves to explore the greater D.C. area with her four young children and documents everything with her ever-present camera.


Q&A Discussions

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  2. DS

    Good article but… photo example in no 3 has no rim light on shoulders and actually at least to me looks like a floating head exactly what should not be done as per your intro. Or my monitor is too dark to pick it up in which case I shall shut up.
    Also a point to make, side lighting (split, Rembrandt etc) is not advisable with problem and mature skin as all the tiny imperfections cast deep shadows resulting in hours in Photoshop to retouch…unless using second light source or reflector to brighten them, learnt this painful lesson recently…

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    • Hanssie

      On my monitor, I can definitely see a distinction…but I always have my brightness turned on blast, which one day my poor eyes are gonna regret. (Note to self: more carrots?)

      And yes, your other point is a good one and a good tip. Live and learn. Thanks for sharing.

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    • David Andrade

      I can see the separation on my screen too. I wonder if it may be your monitor DS.

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