Black and White Rules for Portraits, Okay?

I’ve done a few model shoots lately (and I have one tomorrow with the lovely Sarah).

During my processing of the images from a few recent sessions, I’ve found that I’ve gone for high-contrast black and white treatment.

I think black and white really works well for portraits.  Sometimes colour can be distracting, and if you’re using moody lightning like I often do, black and white treatment, with its removal of the potential distraction in colour, makes shape, form and tone more prominent.

Here are a couple of examples of where I think the black and white treatment has worked well.

First, the talented Jess:

I'm Not That Innocent (B&W)

I'm Not That Innocent (B&W)

In this session, I went for dramatic, high-contrast lighting and seduction/sexyness as a theme/feel.  With this sort of lighting and prominent shadow from which the model emerges, the monochromatic treatment highlights shape and form.

Compare this image to the colour version.

When I photographed Sarah recently, even during the shoot I was pre-visualising black and white.  As it turned out, I prefer the images of her when processed in black and white.  Here’s an example image (and one I quite like):



While I haven’t published the colour version of this shot (yet), I think the black and white version has more appeal.

In processing portraits lately, I’ve adopted the multi-layered, non-destructive approach I apply to my seascapes, with heavy use of lightening and darkening curves adjustment layers to selectively add pop to certain parts of the image and darken others and/or apply vignetting.

I have taken to using two black and white conversion layers and applying a green filter to the base black and white layer, and an infrared filter to another layer which I apply only to the eyes using masks.  This really makes the eyes stand right out, and the eyes are the most important parts of a portrait (in most cases).

In the future I might publish a post-processing tutorial on one of my recent black and white portraits.


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