Black and white portrait photography expresses some distinct emotions that colorful portraiture photos sometimes can struggle to express. You may have heard or read something else but to shoot in black and white is not easy - it’s not only about shifting to monochrome mode. To get the perfect, emotional B&W portrait photo there’s a lot of details you as a photographer need to take into account. We contacted German Tobias Glawe (tobiasglawe), a portraiture photographer specialized in black & white photos, to give us an insight into how he shoots and creates his beautiful B&W photos. And as Tobias has written on his ViewBug profile:

”Portraits that are done in black and white add an emotional layer of complexity to their subject. It's the purest and maybe the most elegant way to photograph people.” - Tobias Glawe

How to Take Black and White Portraits [Guide]

1. Black And White Portrait Lighting

2. How To Talk To Your Model

3. Portrait Camera Settings

4. Portraits Manual Focus

5. B&W Portrait Examples

6. Black & White Inspiration Galleries

1. Find The (Right) Light (For You)
I prefer to work with natural light and uniform lighting, so I work most of the time with a large window behind me and I always try to avoid direct sunlight. The result is a softer light, which is always a good point to start with, in particular for female portraits. Make sure that your model is the brightest part of the photo, especially the models face. Also, try to get catchlight in your model's eyes to add dimension and depth to them. a clean background with not too many distractions is also very helpful.

2. Communicate With Your Model
Black & white portraits reduce the elements for the image composition. So it is important to find a good balance for those elements that are still left: Simplification of the scene, Golden ratio, Luminance contrast. Your model is the star, give her or him the attention he or she deserves. Empathy and communication are the keys. Talk to your model (small talk always helps), ensure to engage your vis-à-vis, don't bore them, and try to make them feel comfortable. Their expression is the most important element you have.

3. Know Your Settings
Knowing your camera and gear is essential (with all pros and cons). Choose a lens you trust (I prefer 85mm on Full Frame) and always shoot in Manual Mode “M” with Spot Metering. The benefits you'll get are consistently great results. You need to check and properly readjust the settings (Shutter Speed or Aperture) when conditions are changing, e.g. distance to the light source (or window). Also, set your picture style or camera display to monochrome to get a better preview.

4. Don't Be Afraid To Focus Manually
It's a matter of taste but I like to shoot portraits nearly wide open between f/1.8 and f/2.5. If you own a DSLR, you're only supported by the Phase detection of the Autofocus (in 90% of all cases). With 85mm f/1.8 on a 35mm DSLR and 2.7 Yards distance to your model, there is a Depth of field of 3.4 Inches. To handle this with the Autofocus, you need a bunch of well-performing Autofocus Points and a perfect lens without a front or back focus issue. When you shoot wide open, be prepared to focus or refocus manually sometimes (you're lucky, if your lens offers a combined automatic and manual focus – many modern lenses do).

5. Underexpose it
First of all, shoot RAW. A big advantage is that even if you set your picture style to monochrome, you'll get a full colored RAW file instead of a black and white jpeg. Another tip is to underexpose your portraiture photos. Depending on the model's skin tone and camera characteristics, for example, 1/3 stops for darker skin to 2/3 for brighter skin. However, these are just guidelines since every camera and light situation is unique - you need to try it out yourself.

So how do you know how much you need to underexpose the picture? Try to capture the natural shadows on the cheeks, jawline and under the lips on a photo - if you don’t see these shadows then it’s too overexposed. In overexposed images, you'll lose this shadows and get a flat result. Reconstructing those shadows in the post-processing provokes errors and it's a frustrating thing to do. It’s easier to correct moderate underexposure than overexposure. There are many ways to correct the luminosity in post-processing: HSL, Gradation Curves, etc.

6. Use Your Colored Photo Version
Most modern retouch techniques like Frequency Separation or Gradient Maps are not suitable for greyscale photos so I recommend doing all retouching work on the colored photos. It helps to prevent blotchy skin parts.

7. Every Photo Is Unique
It’s important to understand that every single B&W photo is unique and needs its own black and white conversion. In the past, I used several ways and tools for a black and white conversion but I like the way how Alien Skin Exposure works. I start with a custom preset based on a B&W Film emulsion but then I need to take into account the different, unique, characteristics of the image. Settings like color channels, clarity, and curves vary on skin and hair color, makeup, and luminance contrast.

For more great portraiture photos taken by Tobias, visit his profile, website, Facebook page and Instagram.

Check Out These Inspiring Posts:

1. Black And White Female Portraits Photo Contest Winners
2. This Is What Sexy In B&W Should Look Like
3. 13 Hypnotizing B&W Street Portraits
4. Black And White Photo Contests

A special thanks to our friend and professional photographer Greg Gorman for his collaboration as a guest judge in this photo contest. From personality portraits and advertising campaigns to magazine layouts and fine artwork, Greg Gorman has developed and showcased a discriminating and unique style in his profession over the past four decades. Mr. Gorman is a master fine-art photographer whose images of stage, film, sports, and music personalities are both stunningly beautiful and iconic. His distinctive use of light in his black and white portraits is one the identifying aspects of a Gorman photograph.

100+ Examples Of Great Black And White Portraits:

"KarabA" by ByKefraN

"16-10-09 - Cloé-11 " by Laurent_Martinotti

"Ssshh " by sianelizabethrobertson

"Melanie Kroll " by wandke-photography

"Nicola Jayne " by burkittphoto

"Melinda " by Soulkey

"Julie " by JackHoier

"Timeless Classics " by MissyLynn

"Dadi " by GeorgeRauscher

"The queen of the streets of Bogota" by cosmecastell

"Jo." by Joseph-Balson

"Bell" by ChrisParratt

"Goran" by vedranvidak_1401

"me&me-photographize" by paulinaduczman

"Little Rose" by ericstephen

"Gust" by Eyeteeth

"DSC01350_pp" by jmphotography2323

"Amanda " by MishoJx

"I see the world here" by djeffact

"Old west wisdom" by Ethos

"Strong" by nikkikebbertmulkern

"Unnamed girl" by CarloMarrasPhotography

"Time To Reset" by Garto1

"Marina Sensual Look" by garryvc1

"Morgan-4" by markhaslett

"Jen" by tonydenning

"Passive smoking" by chris-herzog

"Jasmin" by liczkas

"Maleficent Inspired~Smile" by dacphoto

"Psssst" by momasko

"Naida" by redzepagicaida

"Charcoal Heart " by crystaldiane

"Gen and Kass" by JoannaFletcherPhotography

"Iambic" by stevencheung

"My Cheerleader" by kimberleywelter

"the guitar" by oliviacabral

"M." by gkojadinovic

"Focus on the moment" by adamduraj

"D75_5360-2-Edit-2" by angelicapage

"Waiting" by Kamsing

"Robin_Yong_Arbore Sisters (Ethiopia)JPG" by robinyong

"Mystic Winter" by bartboodtsphotography

"Georgia" by enriquelopezphoto

"DSC_1997" by Mtino

"Desperate" by Photofortin

"Aviator" by TommyHo

"Suzanne9 (1 of 1)bw" by laansanh

"BW " by rebekavodrazkova

"Pain " by pjwedig

"Rebecca in shadow " by SarahKeates

"DSC_0305-Edit-1 " by Seanie2322

"Rikke " by danielhollister

" ???????2 ?????? ?.?. " by Mipasu

"Growth " by LaimaKavaliauskaite

"Najwa " by aminefassi

"Rosa " by yannickdesmet

"Brittany " by adrianchinery

"Weronica Sochaz " by panilsson

"Standard " by PrysyazhnyyOleksiy

"time flies " by Lichtreize

"Oblivion " by AndrejCikvari

"The Fan " by SundaysChildPhotography

"Benedetta " by lucafoscili

"about the face " by djeffact

"IMG_1965 copy " by viceroy

"Getting Ready " by TheWeddingTraveler

"men from Sahel " by BOULENGER

"IMG_7300-EditKKD " by kkeetondesigns

"Angel " by MngGstng

"Elegance " by YelyzavetaSemenova

"Sammie " by kenhood

"Natural " by sbnfoto

"Dark Happy Portrait " by Julieweiss

"In Black and White " by JeffAlexander

"Karolina " by anetacoufalova

"Elvisa " by enklajd

"Sophie " by KaraAmyLeigh

"Portrait of Marc... " by peschman

"Lily " by kajacurtis

"Josey " by vibrantshot

"Chloe " by gcphotographyAU

"image " by scottphillipson

"Englishman " by przemyslawchola

"Boyhood " by pattyschmitt

"Nymph in the City " by BogdanTeodorov

"The Joker " by RussElkins

"Does Not Play Well With Others " by Sensei

"Amber " by kurioko

"Traces of Life " by zayyarlynn

"Barbara " by hugosousa

"Ulrich " by natalyapryadko

"R O U G H " by spARTiat_de

"JOE_2348asdsmall " by joeehlen


"Laura " by siegart

"Cathy " by Denis09

"Train Of Thought " by FotoJourneywithCallie

"Sam " by calmas5

"Sensual by " by Padamskicom

"Emerging From The Shadows " by ElenaParaskeva

"Julie " by Boholm

"Mindaugas_Navickas1325 " by mindaugasnavickas

"Natasha Legeyda portrait " by marcogabbuggiani

"Juhi " by Arnab_Ghosh

"Emile " by jjursch

"Kelly in BW " by dasBildprojekt

"men from rome " by alfons

"Anastasija " by osebnosaraigon

"pretense realized " by sageluna

"Biggles 2015 b " by johnsmiddysmith

"Instinct " by Fernforests

"So Close " by yurironzhin