“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.” Ted Grant:
A black and white portrait is timeless. It doesn’t age. It’s classic and traditional. Photography was born in black and white after all.
A black and white portrait attracts immediate attention. There is something magic about black and white photography that is impossible to explain. It has a sense of mystique about it. It can almost transfer us between the realms of reality and fantasy.
What is black and white photography?
Put simply, black and white photography is the production of monochrome images. These photos are only in shades of grey, ranging from black and white. But the approach to taking these photos is vastly different to how a photographer would take colour photos. This is why there is such a difference in results when colour photography has been converted to black and white.
Taking the best black and white photography
As there are only two primary colours, this type of photography is simple and direct and allows you to decide on the visual statement you wish to make. People are often surprised at the power black and white images have. Texture in a photograph cannot be felt or touched it is perceived by our eyes to decide if it is rough or smooth.
When you take away colour, you are taking away one of the ways the viewer reads your portrait. There needs to be strong dimensions to highlight the subject in the photograph, accentuating the light and shadows in the image. The viewers eye is drawn to the subject and the elements of composition. Black and white leaves you with the differences between dark and light tones allowing the use of light, shadow, shape and space, to accentuate contrast in a print.
Why choose black and white photography portraits vs colour photography?
Since the world is in colour when we see a portrait in black and white, we are in some ways transported to another time. You can create a dramatic look to your images and black and white draws the most attention to textures and shapes. It goes to the roots of photography itself. Black and white photography shines when you want the feelings to be conveyed through a photograph. It portrays the mood of the photograph.
With colour comes complexity. The use of colour can unintentionally detract interest from the photograph. You need to ask yourself does this image rely exclusively on colour or are there other interesting aspects that can be emphasised.
When looking at a portrait without the use of colour the viewer can connect with the emotional status of that person and see the specific details of an individuals’ face especially their eyes. The viewer will be drawn in to all the elements within the frame without distractions. The use of colour can often conjure up certain emotions, but when you strip the photograph back to black and white the emotion of the photo comes from within the subject without being premediated by the colours used. The viewer is forced to pause and take a closer look. Focusing on black and white only allows for fantastic tonal range regardless of race, colour or background.
What is your goal?
Before you decide on Black and White vs Colour your picture must have a goal. What is it your want your picture to communicate? Here are some points to consider in making your decision:
What's the goal of your portrait?
If you are wanting to stick with tradition and make the people in the portrait stand out without distraction go with black and white.
What's the vantage point of your portrait?
The use of black and white leaves more to the imagination so in theory the brain replaces the missing colours but in a creative way. One way of looking at it is using black and white as the default and only add colour if you think it brings something to the picture. If the portrait visually portrays exactly what you want in black and white, then adding a colour can weaken the subject.
Technical limitations and lighting
Black and White works best with dramatic and highly contrasted pictures. The best way to achieve this is with a professional photographer in a customised studio environment where there is control over lighting, exposure and background shadows.
What do you prefer?
Finally, the decision comes down to personal taste. A portrait is a piece of art and something you will have for an extended period, so you need to make sure it suits your overall personal style and that of your home.
Nicholas Fiennes at Fine Photography specialises in boutique customised black and white photography and believes in the complete end to end experience of getting a portrait taken so you are left with a timeless and elegant piece of art.
What makes our black and white photography so special?
Nicholas Fiennes has specialised in black and white images for over 30 years. This experience has resulted in our black and white photos claiming awards by the AIPP and WPPI. Fine Photography also has a state of the art studio specifically built from the ground up to help capture these award winning images.
Black & White Gallery: