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The life of the monochrome portrait contains a rich history dating back to the birth of photography itself. Upon the invention of the camera, it was the portrait that took precedence. The opportunity to capture fellow man in a moment in time on film was finally a reality. So when put into context, appreciating the continued importance and wide scale exploitation of black and white portraiture today, it's clear that the art is not lost and has survived the test of time.
Many will speculate upon the reason for it's continued use, particularly as the art of monochrome portraiture has lived through dramatic technological, cultural and artistic developments. It remains a steadfast practice within any photographers portfolio.
For me there is a beauty to capturing an individual with a pure focus on encapsulating that person in that moment. There is also beauty to working in black and white that aids that artistic element, ensuring that the eye is not distracted by colour, but focused upon the subject, their expression and features which make them unique beings.
Hopefully this collection of contemporary black and white portraits will inspire you to head out and try it for yourself. Try finding some willing friends or family to work with. You don't need any particular location or equipment, just begin working with people you know, with mannerisms, expressions and a setting that you are familiar with. Build from there.
Be aware that some people just aren't happy to have a camera pointed at them, so at times you'll need to be discrete. For me, it's all about capturing the split second moment, the antithesis of that person in that time. Once you've tried it out with those familiar to you, challenge yourself to work with people that you don't know. This will immediately put you on the spot. It will force you to understand your subject in a short space of time, to judge their character and aim to capture it in your work.
You won't need any specific equipment to start with, just use a camera that you are familiar with so you can focus on working with and understanding your subject. As you progress, it will be important to consider lighting options, either exploiting natural light and the golden hours (around sunrise and sunset when the light comes in at a low angle), using flashguns, or using studio lights to artificially create the lighting atmosphere that suits the subject.
It's important to build a rapport with your subject. Find out as much about them as you can, as this will inform your work. Consider whether the subject has any defining features that you can exploit in your shots. Also think about the setting of your image. Whether that be their home, workspace or neutral territory, it's a crucial part of the process.
For me, working in portraiture is one of the most difficult but rewarding photographic exploits. To try to understand and work with a subject that has so many variables is a challenge well worth meeting.
Here are a few links to useful tutorials and articles that will teach you more about this type of photography:
- Quick Tip - Simple Portrait Photography Tips
- How to Achieve the Perfect Portrait Pose
- Quick Tip - Dramatic Portraits with Off Camera Flash
- Create a Stunning High Key Portrait Photo
Share Your Own Images!
I hope you've enjoyed the photographs and that they've inspired you to go out and capture something amazing for yourself!
We'd love to see your favorite black and white shots - just post a comment and link below. Also, feel free to link to any resources that you've found particularly helpful in this area.