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Black and White Portrait Photography: Made Easy



There is something very special about a black and white portrait. In this age of digital cameras we can easily overlook other means of creating fine photos.

Yes, you can create B&W images with a digital camera, but many photographers still enjoy using their film cameras also.

This article will give you some great pointers on shooting portraits with black and white film…

Article: Black and White Portrait Photography: Made Easy
by Guest Photographer: Roger Lewis

When I started out as a young photographer back in the sixty’s, just about all images in advertising were shot in Black and White and we use to work mostly with large view cameras sizes 5×4 inch, half plate, whole plate and 10×8 inch, using B/W sheet film made by Kodak and Ilford.

We also use to shoot with Medium Format cameras such as the “Hassleblad” SLR. and the “Rolleiflex” TLR, format size 6×6 cm. using Black and White film stock Ilford HP3 and HP4, also Kodak Tri X, 120 size roll film.

There were no Point and Shoot Digital Cameras or Compact cameras and color negative film was so expensive to buy and even more expensive to process and print, most times it just wasn’t used and the quality was poor.

Side Note: Just about all weddings back then, were shot in Black and White and with Medium Format cameras and haven’t you noticed to day just how exceptional it is to see a creative Wedding Photographer adding a few images in Black and White to his wedding shoot. In my opinion all weddings are made for Black and White photography, after all the Bride is in white and the Groom is in a dark suite.

How then did we shoot color images in the studio for advertising and fashion. We used exclusively Kodak Ektachrome sheet film. Around this time Kodak introduced Kodak Ektachrome to 120 size roll film and of course good old Kodachrome slide film had been around a while. The problem with making a print from a Kodachrome slide was it was very expensive and the quality left much to be desired. Meanwhile Kodak Ektachrome Sheet Film, was the only quality colour film available at the time and still is one of the best quality colour transparency films around to day.

So whats so special in shooting in Black and White, simply put, It’s just so refreshing to see an image that is not in bright and sometimes unnatural colors and the beauty of the image is in the tonal range from whites to blacks, which evokes a mood which is hard to capture when you look at bright colors.

For example if you shoot a Portrait Head Shot with a white or plain background, carefully lighting the subject, you are really only going to see a creation of an image whare the character or beauty of that person shows without confusing it with color.

So lets examine ways to shoot Black and White Portraits, Fashion or figure shots.


1. Film Camera. 35mm. SLR or Medium Format size 6x6cm.

2. Black and White film. Kodak T.Max 100 ASA. or Ilford HP4.

3. Soft-Box or Umbrella attachment for a Studio Flash.

4. Reflectors.

5. Tripod.

6. Model.


You have two choices for shooting you Model in Black and White, we will keep the details short as there will be other resources you can follow up with at the bottom of this page.

a) Studio: Setting up and working in your home studio, (or hired studio).

b)! Outdoors: Working outdoors on

a fine warm day.

STUDIO: Set up your flash with a soft-box or umbrella attachment, positioned to the side of your camera, approximately at a 45 degree angle to the subject.

Always work with a tripod, this is how the Pros do it and they know a thing or two!

Set up a large reflector the other side of the camera and fix a second light facing into the reflector as a bounce light to fill-in the shadow side of the model. I would be wise to have an additional small reflector below the models head to reflect light up under the models chin.

You may also require additional lights to light up the background and a clip light to clip the models hair.

Check your exposures by using a stand-in model. After some experimentation find the right balance and correct exposures my making these tests a day or two before you plan the actual shoot, so eliminating mistakes on the big day.

OUTDOORS: Now this is a whole lot simpler and just about anybody can produce great shots without the necessity of expensive studio flash equipment.

You will however, need a fine warm day and you will be working outside in the SHADOW of the building.

Seat your Model facing whare the majority of whare the light is coming from, making sure that the sun is not falling on the model.

Place a white card, size 1 meter by 70 cm. available at you local art store, behind the models head as a white background.

Then place two other white cards, one each side of the model, reflecting light back into the subjects face.

It’s also a good idea to have your model seated in front of a table on which you have also placed a white card. This lights up any shadows under the models chin.

The camera must be set on a tripod so you can then carefully control your image. Remember you are creating a beautiful picture, not taking snaps of your kids, be professional and you images will look professional also.

You can improvise setting up your background, I usually use the garden broom and rake… But do make sure that you support the reflectors and background with a strong tape in case of a sudden gust of wind.

Now you have just set up your DAYLIGHT STUDIO…

Find a good quality B/W Lab, yes they still exist, and it’s worth paying extra for this kind of work. Avoid taking you processing to the High St, 1 hour photo lab.

The results will astound you and y! ou will surely impress you model too.

With some persistence and experimentation, y ou

will prefect your own technique with the shots and soon start producing masterpieces.

By the way, the usual attention to the Models hair and make-up is also needed, keeping in mind that you don’t have to over do the make up for B/W photography.

While shooting your model with your Daylight Studio set-up, you can create some great images for your portfolio in the same way the great photographers of the past use to and in the way that all photography started out… Black and White…

To learn more about Studio Portrait Head Shots go here:Pro Portrait Head Shots

To learn more about Daylight Black and White Studio go here:Daylight Studio

Roger started his career in the early sixties at the tender age of 15 as an apprentice in a large London Ad/Fashion Studio. A few years late he became one of London’s youngest most successful Ad/Fashion photographers.

In the seventies he became freelance and took most of his clients with him. He retired recently but still carries out selective assignments. He also runs several websites, one of them is: Pro SECRETS of Money Making PHOTOGRAPHY

Roger also teaches and helps photographers and beginners with advice from his vast experiences in Ad/Fashion photography.

Article Source: EzineArticles.com  


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