Tips for Shooting Black and White Portraits
Lighting the Set
For black and white portraits, the lighting needs to be used differently to create a dramatic mood to the portrait. The mid tones will give that soft ethereal feel, the blacks more drama and the whites that glowing softness on the edges. Each portrait will use light differently. The important thing in black and white portrait photography is to evaluate the subject and decide what type of lighting will best describe their personality. For instance, with babies, soft white light will accentuate the softness of the babies' skin and newness of life. Babies are soft, therefore the light should be soft. With wizened old men, more drama and contrast to show the lines of knowledge that cross their brows from years of learning.
By using highlights, skin can be softened and smoothed. With the key light, use a higher setting to blow out some of the brighter sections of skin on the forehead, cheeks and chin. This will soften the areas and give a glowing look. (Note: This does not work well in color) In the studio, you can set all the highlight points. If shooting outside, look for light falling though trees as a highlight spot. Position the subject so the light falls directly on specific points on the face or cheek. (See figures 3 & 4)
Find Sharp Contrasting Light
In the studio, light can be moved to create contrast and shadow depth. When shooting outdoors, look for contrasting light in shadowy areas with bits of sunshine seeping through the shadows. This will give the effect of spots. Use direct sun to sidelight or for profile shots. Separating the whites and blacks with a little mid-tone gray is great for creating intensity and drama.(Figures 5 & 8)
For subjects that need a softer effect or dream like quality, use soft boxes for all lighting. By using light in the mid-tone range, this will cut down on contrast and shadow detail. Using soft boxes and reflectors to cut down on contrast can soften the face and reduce the appearance of lines. Combine the use of highlighting and using soft light to reduce shadow detail and the images can be amazing. This softens the appearance, but with just enough contrast to define the face. (Figures 6 & 7)