Black and white portraits feel like a nostalgia-laden dream. Plus, they give an artistic, classic air that reminds us of the early days of film photography. However, thinking monochrome might be challenging as we only see our life in color.
So, to help you create striking B/W portraits, we have selected 21 great examples to get ideas.
But first, let’s talk about some general recommendations for black and white photography:
3 quick tips for black and white portrait photography
Why shooting in RAW instead of using the monochrome mode in your camera? Simple: because it will give you more freedom to get creative in editing. All without losing image quality.
The magic about shooting in color first is that you can carefully adjust certain tones to make them look lighter or darker in post-processing. That way, when you convert the image to B/W, you’re free to control how you want it to look. The choice is all yours.
Black and white photography is the perfect opportunity to create contrast between shadows and bright lights. You can do that with the proper lighting setting or with editing techniques such as Dodge and Burn. Also, you can play with the Tone Curve for better results.
High contrast will give you a more aesthetically pleasing shot while enhancing the skin texture and facial features of your subject.
Focus on emotion
A great black and white portrait is all about emotion and expressions. Take advantage of the fact that black and white creates a poetic aura, completely separated from reality.
And remember: don’t use a B/W filter for no reason! Always think of a concept behind your shots.
Portrait/black and white photographers to see for inspiration
Here is a mix of some of the best works from classic and new portrait photographers to get inspired.
Let’s start with one of the most famous names of all time:
1. Richard Avedon
Source: @avedonfoundation on Instagram
Richard Avedon was an American photographer widely known for his high-contrast black and white portraits. For his images, he always used a plain background and focused on capturing powerful expressions.
This portrait of Barbra Streisand is a perfect example of how to use contrast and shapes in black and white photography.
To see more of his work, check out The Richard Avedon Foundation online.
2. Irving Penn
Source: The Irving Penn Foundation
Like Avedon, Irving Penn was an American photographer noted for his portraits and fashion photography.
This photo of Truman Capote is an example of how to use harsh lighting in black and white portraiture to add drama.
3. Lee Jeffries
Lee Jeffries is a portrait photographer from the UK that focuses on creating expressive, eye-catching close-ups.
Notice how he uses contrast to highlight the eyes and skin texture in this image. You can see more pictures like this on his Instagram: @Lee_Jeffries!
4. Cristina Otero
Cristina Otero is a Spanish fine-art photographer who started creating dreamy self-portraits at the very young age of 13.
Most of her work is in color but her expressive, black and white portraits are stunning. If you want to see her portfolio, check out her official website here.
Source: @zezn on Instagram
If you are into minimalism, you might love Japanese photographer Zezn. She makes delicate self-portraits forming new shapes with her body while using negative space and natural light.
Unlike many photographers on Instagram, she never shows her face or shares personal information about her. She is a bit of a mystery, but her beautiful B/W photos are worth sharing.
6. Jean-Marie Franceschi
Source: Jean-Marie Franceschi website
Jean-Marie Franceschi is a French photographer. He shoots mostly on black and white film, which gives his work has a very vintage look.
In this image, he took advantage of the model’s hands to make a simple but striking composition using minimal resources— just a table and a good light source!
If you want to see more of his portrait photos, follow him on Instagram: @jeanmariefranceschi.
7. Inez and Vinoodh
Source: Inez and Vinoodh website
Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin are a Dutch fashion photographer duo. They are some of the most popular artists in the fashion industry nowadays.
This amazing portrait of Scarlett Johansson is an example of a creative pose for your model. Also, it shows how to exploit lines and contrast in black and white photos.
8. Harry Callahan
Source: MoMa’s Harry Callahan collection
Harry Callahan was an American photographer known for his fine use of lines, shapes, and shadows. He was mainly interested in nature and documentary photography. However, he also took countless black and white portraits of his wife, Eleanor. This is one of his most famous photos of her.
9. Jacob Sutton
Source: Jacob Sutton | Art Partner
Jacob Sutton is an English photographer and filmmaker with a very sophisticated style for fashion photography.
This black and white photo is part of his Bermuda Triangle Exhibition. If you want to know more about his current projects, take a look at his Instagram: @jacobsutton_studio.
10. Graciela Iturbide
Source: Graciela Iturbide website
Graciela Iturbide is a Mexican photographer widely known for her black and white documentary photography and portraits. Her photos usually speak about Latin American identity, and they are quite powerful and emotionally charged.
This image is part of her Those who live in the sand project, which focuses on Mexico’s indigenous population.
11. Betina La Plante
Born in Argentina, Betina La Plante creates stunning black and white portraits. She likes close-up shots with black backgrounds to highlight details of the subject and impress the viewer, as in this photograph.
If you want to see more of her work, check out her Instagram: @betinalaplante.
12. Vivian Maier
Source: Vivian Maier website
If you like street photography, you should take a look at Vivian Maier’s work. Her black and white photography is amazing— and her story is unique!
This cute portrait is a glimpse of Maier’s incredible work. Plus, it is also an excellent example of how to frame your subject using a window in your composition.
13. Laura Zalenga
Source: Laura Zalenga website
Laura Zalenga is a German visual artist who tells stories through photographs, both in color and B/W. To see her work, follow her on Instagram: @laurazalenga.
In this image, you can see how to use shadows and highlights creatively to add value to your black and white portraits.
14. Tyler Shields
Source: Tyler Shields website
Black and white photography is ideal for capturing silhouettes. This image by Tyler Shields is a great example of how to make an incredible backlight to emphasize shapes in black and white.
Tyler Shields is a well-known fashion photographer who stands out for his provocative style. Many of his photos recall the work of other great fashion masters such as Helmut Newton.
15. Imed Kolli
Source: Imed Kolli website
Imed Kolli is another black and white photographer that likes to evoke emotions in his work. Many of his images are very heavy on the editing side— some photos even look like digital art, for example. But that is just part of his style.
If you like this kind of photography, you can follow him on Instagram for more inspiration: @imedkolli_official.
Source: Platon website
Platon is famous for his headshots and black and white portraits of many celebrities and politicians. He usually uses a white background and emphasizes highlights and shadows.
This photo is a good inspiration to play with creative angles and wide-angle lenses to distort the figure and make dynamic compositions.
17. Grayson Lauffenburger
Source: Grayson Lauffenburger website
Grayson Lauffenburger (@graysonlauffenburger) is a professional portrait photographer who focuses on highlighting the individuality of the subjects he photographs.
To make your portraits more interesting, try to include elements that act as a sign of your model’s personality.
18. Philippe Halsman
Philippe Halsman photographed countless artists and celebrities during his career, including Salvador Dalí, Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol.
We chose this photo of Mia Farrow because it is a great example of how to take advantage of black and white photography to tell a story or set a mood. Think about it: if this photo were in color, it would not be so dramatic.
19. Kosmas Koumianos
Source: Kosmas Koumianos Facebook
Kosmas Koumianos (@kosmaskoumianos) is a portrait and fashion photographer who works in both color and black and white.
This beautiful photo is the perfect blend of high contrast, texture, and emotion to create a powerful portrait.
20. Rose Photography
Source: Rose Photography Facebook
Known as Rose Photography (@rose_photography.eu on Instagram), Rosalie Van den Kerckhove focuses on emotional portraits. Her black and white portrait photography is full of sensitivity, which instantly grabs the viewer’s attention.
21. Andrey Troitsky
Source: Andrey Troitsky | LensCulture
Andrey Troitsky is a Russian photographer and filmmaker. He received a special mention in the LensCulture Black and White Photography Awards 2020.
This photo is an example of how to combine some elements with human parts to create an original portrait.
Now it’s your turn!
Now you know how to exploit all the qualities of black and white, so it’s time to get out your camera and start practicing! For more inspiration, you can search new talents on Instagram and follow communities like @raw_bnw or @bnw_captures.
We hope you found this post useful. If you liked it, please give it a share, and don’t forget to check out our blog for more articles about photography.
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