There is something about monochrome photographs that adds an extra touch of class which just can’t be found in color. This is most true in portrait photography, where black and white images are infused with timeless elegance.
On the one hand, taking a black and white portrait on your iPhone is easy – just use one of the inbuilt filters and watch the screen strip color from the world. However, while these photographs will be black and white, just using a filter won’t give you the perfect portrait.
So, what goes into making a person look stunning?
Bring your subject to life with contrast
Contrast is how our eyes recognize shapes and detail. In an image made only of light, dark and gray, we don’t have color to help us see. Black and white photographs thrive on texture, and big changes in brightness. When those are your only tools you have to use them to the fullest.
Try to frame your subject with opposing brightness – light surrounding dark, dark surrounding light. Often, this is a person’s skin tone, but not always; if your subject has long hair framing all (or most) of their face, choosing a background to contrast against hair tone is the way to go.
Contrast depends on light, but also on how the camera interprets the scene. Adjusting your contrast setting can make a so-so portrait almost jump from the screen. Watch carefully while changing the level, and choose a point where the dark parts of the image are deep and rich, while the lighter parts shine bright. It’s important to be careful here, as being too aggressive with contrast adjustments can cause you to lose detail in the extremely bright or dark parts of the image. A simple trick is to increase the setting until you see some detail loss then dial it back.
Exposure, and the perfection thereof
A portrait is all about your subject. The key to making them larger than life and maximizing their camera presence is making sure they sit in the middle of your exposure range. Try to set your iPhone’s exposure so that the majority of their face is about middle-brightness, or just a touch brighter.
Finding the perfect light
Photographs are all about light – and therefore all about shadow, too. While there is no such thing as wrong lighting, exactly, there are some things to look for to help you capture the portrait you really want.
Look for light that is soft, producing shadows without hard lines. Softer shadows are an essential part to that dreamy, cinematic look that black and white is known for. Avoid light sources that come from underneath, instead finding options from level with your subject, or above. If you are working with natural light, it helps to find a white or light-colored wall to create the softness you want.
Light from above can create dimension, and make a person stand out, larger-than-life. Too much of it can add an almost over-dramatic sense to your image. With a little adjustment in where you have your subject stand (or sit!), a spot can almost always be found to take a perfect shot.
Color, and when to lose it
Filters are the most convenient way to take a black and white photograph, and there is nothing wrong with using them. Not only is it simple, but you can see what you’re getting before you take the picture.
However, there are also advantages to taking your portrait in color, and then converting it to black and white afterwards. When you take a picture using a filter, this is actually what your iPhone camera is doing – only it is choosing all the settings for you. Once those settings have been baked into the photograph, there is no changing them.
You can think about converting color images to black and white as designing your own filters to perfectly match each image. It’s true that this takes extra time, but for a really meaningful portrait it just might be worth it.
With your iPhone in your pocket, you are moments away from taking an image that perfectly captures anyone you meet – whether that’s a friend, family or a stranger. With just a little work adjusting settings and paying attention to the light, you can take priceless photographs anytime, anywhere.
For the edits above I used two of the Pretty Presets mobile collections; if you’re interested in edits with their desktop collections, check out this post: Editing Beach Photos with Pretty Presets.