Black And White Headshot Photography

black and white headshot of woman smiling

Black and white headshots can be striking and elegant. At the same time they can be stark and moody. To create black and white headshots, there are 2 main considerations:

First, the photographer needs to ensure that sufficient light is available to generate a good exposure. This is because black and white photography requires a large ratio of exposure for the highlights in order to render contrastless tonality on a grey background.

Second, the photographer must avoid any flare which will distort the image. As a result of this, the lens should be as close to the subject as possible. Where possible, choose a focal length that will give you a sharp photo at f/8 (or f/5.6) and choose your lens accordingly.

This article explores some options for capturing black and white headshots using natural light and using available artificial sources of light where artificial light is required to reduce artificial light glare or enhance mood or atmosphere.

Lighting Technique For Black and White Head Shots

The key to making a black and white headshot is to ensure that sufficient light is available for a good exposure. This will allow the photographer to retain details in the shadows which will, in turn, provide detail and texture when processing the image for black and white.

For this reason, in most situations, an external flash unit will be necessary. The use of a flash unit also has the advantage of eliminating any unwanted flare that may be caused by a flash unit used on a camera or on a hotshoe.

Black and White Headshot Posing Tips

A side light may be the most flattering light to the face. A side light may also soften any shadows that are created by the nose and cheek bones which can be accentuated by using a front or back light.

A black and white shot taken in natural sunlight with a soft lens can produce an excellent image which is both timeless and elegant.

Under artificial lighting, use a diffuser to create even illumination that will reduce harsh shadows. Alternatively, you can use the light sources to produce a more dramatic portrait.

Editing Your Headshots For Black and White

For black and white headshots, you should use a grey background that is no more than 18% gray. Prior to any editing, always sharpen your image to remove any errors in focus and detail in order to achieve a crisp black and white image.

The vertical midtones will soften in the process of black and white processing as should be expected from the software used to create the black and white conversion. Wherever possible, take your black and white headshots with the subject facing towards a light source to reduce the amount of shadows in the photo or to create more drama.

Things To Be Careful Of

The use of a large aperture and a wide-angle lens technique is often employed to create more dramatic images.

Although it may produce aesthetically pleasing images, the use of long shutter speeds in low light conditions will blur the subject and reduce the sharpness of the image.

As a result, spend time in making a detailed set of lighting instructions to ensure that you achieve your desired end result and can replicate it in future shoots.

Bottom Line

Black and white headshots can be striking and elegant. At the same time they can be stark and moody. To create black and white head shots, these tips and techniques will dramatically improve your image quality and impact.