Color or Black and White? What to look for…

When a client expresses their preference for black and white or color, I approach the photo session with a different set of eyes.

If it’s black and white I’m after, I look for bold and well defined shapes, contrast between objects, and graphic backgrounds. I try to create simple, bold lines with cheeks and shoulders and to pay attention to light and dark. For backgrounds: rocks, boulders, and a sea of pebbles work well. Tall grasses are nice and create a little bit of pattern. Blurring out the background is also an effective technique and provides lovely contrast with the subject. Silhouetting a profile with sunlight is a dramatic look that is gorgeous in black and white and can be achieved by placing the subject between the photographer and the sun.

Newborn photography lends itself to black and white because babies are often pink and their skin tones are so different from their parents and siblings. In color, the eye is drawn to the stark color contrast instead of the harmonious shapes of the newborn in mama’s arms or lying on daddy’s tummy.

If a client wants color I look for color in the environment and try to juxtapose it with the clothing. If there are a lot of colors in a family’s wardrobe, it sometimes works best to pose them against a colorful background—green grass, blue sky, or trees and shrubs with colorful leaves. This will help the clothing recede into the background and make the faces pop more.

An environment full of textures, patterns and shapes, like the woods of the Greenbelt, renders best in color. If you turn such a picture into black and white, the subject often blends in because there’s not enough contrast.

A few  guidelines:

1) The eye always goes to the area of greatest contrast. That means if your blond, fair-skinned child is wearing a bright red shirt in a wintery landscape with dead grass and shrubs, your eye will be drawn to the red shape in the picture. If your child is wearing blue and being photographed against a blue sky, the face will pop out from the sea of blue because it’s different.

2) If you’re interested in black and white, find strong architectural details like stairs, arches, shadows, or anything else graphic, and experiment with posing your child(ren).

3) Close-ups of faces work very well in black and white, but experiment with the camera settings that will allow you to move close-in without getting blurry images.

4) Think about how your children’s clothes will work with the background you select. Keep in mind that green and red are the same value in black and white-—they both appear as a medium grey.

5) Try to decide in advance whether you’d like the images to be color or black and white.

6) Converting an image from color to black and white is not as simple as clicking on a button. Whatever software you are using should allow you to adjust contrast and brightness settings, and ideally to darken or open up shadows. If you do a straight conversion, the photograph will usually look flat and a little washed out.

Examples to come!

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