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 in how he shoot and creates his beautiful B&W photos. And as Tobias has written on his ViewBug profile: ”Portraits done in black and white add a emotional layer of complexity to their subject. It's the purest and maybe most elegant way to photograph people”. The team at viewBug couldn’t agree more! Here’s Tobias Top 7 B&W Portraiture Photography Tips.

Lilith by tobiasglawe

1. Find The (Right) Light (For You)
I prefer to work with natural light and an 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, specially 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.

Minou by tobiasglawe

2. Communicate With Your Model
Black & white portraits reduces to the elements for an 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.

A sunday at home II by tobiasglawe

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 is consistent great results. You need to check and properly readjust the settings (Shutter Speed or Aperture) when conditions are changing, e.g. distance to light source (or window). Also, set your picture style or camera display to monochrome to get a better preview.

Vanessa II by tobiasglawe

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 an 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).

Larissa by tobiasglawe

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 loose 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.

Lilith by tobiasglawe

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

Kristina by tobiasglawe

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, make up and luminance contrast.

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