Black & white photography is a powerful storytelling tool. When we remove colour, it eliminates any elements that could work to detract from the main subject. In doing so, our viewer’s eye is more drawn to our portrait subject, and we can use it to reveal the soul and character of our subjects.
Today we’re sharing 9 stunning portraits taken by our talented Grads, and the ways in which a black & white conversion isolated the subject, conveyed character, mood, or told a story.
Often the human eye is drawn to the lightest part of an image. In colour, the light bokeh on the christmas tree in this image would have been the brightest tone in the image, and our eye would naturally be drawn to it. But in B&W, his face is the brightest part of the image and we’re drawn to his thoughtful, soulful expression and a sense of quiet is felt.
Dana Whitley, Advanced Grad
In monochrome the shadows fall away in this low light portrait. So Morvern’s subject instantly pops and our eyes land on her face and stay there, and we pick up the sense of childhood fun. Our eyes don’t wander around the frame, taking in details in the background because there simply is nothing else to see.
It’s important when editing a shot like this to keep some detail beyond the face so you don’t end up with a head floating in the darkness. It has detail around her shoulders which prevents that from happening and ensures the image has depth.
We love this beautifully detailed newborn shot, captured with a macro lens. By getting in super close and narrowing the focus to the lips, Katy succeeds in drawing our eye exactly where she wants it to go. But then she’s taken it a step further by converting it to black & white, which softens the surrounding details and further hightlights those rosebud lips, inviting us to take in the gentle soft curves.
When we have lots of coloured light bokeh in the background, it can be hard to resist editing it in colour. And don’t get me wrong… coloured light bokeh is delicious! It creates a stunning backdrop of dynamic light play for portraits.
But when converted to black & white it can be just as magical, in a different way. In this shot below the light was hitting the foliage behind him, and it created a dense and textured backdrop from which he could pop off the frame. The icecream smeared all over his face becomes more prominant, his expression is isolated from the surroundings, and it’s a powerful story telling image.
In this environmental portrait, there’s a lot going on in the background. Where, you might ask? Well that’s the thing… you don’t notice it until you really look, because by removing the colour, a lot of the detail in those background elements is gone and barely noticeable. Instead our eyes land on the subject and we take in her stance, her expression, the way she’s holding her bat. There’s pride here and it’s very clear she loves her game.
Kellsie Read, Advanced Grad
We love the way this shot is framed, and the included reflections of the street beyond the window add depth and context. It’s clear he’s at home, this is where he lives, this is his hood. But in colour, those reflections would have been quite busy. In B&W, detail that would have detracted from these two gorgeous subjects is gone. Instead Dana’s little guy and his love for his new kitteh is obvious.
Dana Whitley, Advanced Grad
Her expression of determined concentration in this portrait clearly tells a story of a girl learning to play. Her fingers are trying to find the right chords as they wander over the frets, and the narrow focus draws us to what Claire wanted to show us. The black & white conversion brings great contrast around that area.
Claire Roads, Advanced Grad
The contrast of tones between the lenses in her glasses and her skin tone draws us immediately to her eyes. The expression on her face, the slight tilt of her half smile conveys a strength of character in this gorgeous portrait.
Kate Rankin, Advanced Grad
I hope you loved our tips on capturing mood and character in your portraits with black & white photography!
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