Inspiring in Black & White

Have you been holding onto an image in your mind of a portrait from long ago? Maybe a portrait of a family member or a celebrity that you just can't shake because it moved you so? Many of us have seen such images that stick with us for our entire lifetime. When asked about black and white photos, I first think of the Life magazine image of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. Then I think of one of my grandma in her youth outside her home wearing her brother's tie, smiling shyly into the camera. Those beautiful images swayed my feelings in a way no color image ever could! Without the color, the mood of the photo pushed its way to the immediate surface and crashed into me. I loved that feeling of connection! I strive to create black and white portraits or images that bring connection, a sense of eternity even, to my clients and their family members. I want to create portraits that will last forever so that families can feel eternal NOW! This is why it's so important to me that black and white portraits be done correctly. I promise NEVER to just take any photo and remove the color and call it good.


For me, a beautiful black and white portrait MUST be shot as a black and white portrait. I don't necessarily mean that I shoot only in black and white film (though it is my preference!). I mean simply that I create the image in camera to set up a perfect balance of light and shadow, texture and detail, mood and message, BEFORE I begin editing. I "see" the image in my mind as a black and white and I adjust my settings accordingly. Once the portrait is shot, I begin editing specifically to enhance the black and white image I had in my mind. Many photographers who began learning photography AFTER film was pushed aside for digital images, have learned to rely on Photoshop to produce black and white images. They simply remove color and call it a black and white. But this isn't usually going to produce stunning black and white portraits. Instead, it gives portraits a dull grey flatness, producing a boring, lifeless image.


If you are seeking a true black and white portrait, plan ahead with your photographer. Be dramatic! Be risky! Be daring! It pays off. Consider wearing black or white clothing with strong details on buttons or fabric. Be vulnerable and let the focus fall to your face with clothes that cover the neck or maybe even go in the opposite direction and be as nude as you dare. Use large statement pieces in jewelry or hairstyles. Or go as plain as you can and let the camera capture your soul in all its glory. Be mindful of the setting, too. Avoid clutter in the background, make a clean sweep of what's around you. Consider dark or white backdrops, avoiding color backdrops that may translate to grey once color is removed from the photo. The beauty of a black and white portrait is being able to reach for the extremes in creating an image. There's no murky middle ground because therein lies a grey and boring landscape where the highlights are blown out and the shadows are barely there. There's no romantic sense of secrecy in a photo that's middle ground. So avoid it like you avoid mediocrity.


When you are ready for a truly breath-taking black and white portrait, let's talk. Let's create!

P. A. Elliott, author. And my mother.

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© 2017 by Old World Photography.