Black and White Female Model and Portrait Photography
For the following black and white female portrait photography techniques and tips tutorial I am using a wide variety of my favorite images taken in Hawaii, Fiji, Belgium and Germany throughout the years.
All models showcased on this page are amateur models or first time models, meaning non-models.
Black And White Female Portrait Photography In Natural Light
The Hawaiian portraits were taken during five years spent in the most beautiful state of the USA. The European and Fijian images were created during extended photography trips I took for several months every year. All photos on this page were taken as color digital images and converted to black and white.
The following illustrated black and white portrait photography tutorial is more like a casual conversation without too many boring technical details. My photography is not very technical, my photoshoots take place on location, never in a studio, without any assistants, without reflectors, soft boxes, other heavy or expensive equipment. Therefore the information presented below should be easily applicable for amateur or just starting out photographers.
One of the most beautiful and usable natural lights that can be found in Hawaii occur at sunrise. Sunrise and sunset does not last long at this altitude. There are only a few minutes of golden soft light which are perfect for illuminating a model with. This is the only time besides sunset when the model can look towards the sun and these moments need to be at least somewhat pre-planned to maximize their short window of opportunity.
The quickly rising sun soon becomes too harsh so first the model has to squint. Some time later the sun is high above casting ugly dark shadows on the face of the model. These shadows of course can be lightened up with the use of fill flash or reflector but the blinding brightness of the sun wills till remain a factor.
At this time the sun can be placed behind the model or the photographer needs to seek open shade in order to be able to continue the early morning session.
The above naturally lit black and white portrait was taken just minutes after sunrise. The model is actually laying down on lava rocks that is how the side lighting is blocked partially by her shoulder casting a shadow on her chin.
I do not find the shadow on her face too distracting in this instance, it adds a unique touch in a way.
It was only the second photoshoot for this model (the first one was with me as well) so I decided not to correct her pose too often so I would not make her self conscious. That is how the shadow on the chin was never corrected. I actually rather have the shadow than loosing a natural beautiful expression, not to mention wasting the precious few minutes of sunrise.
There weer other frames without the shadow but the arrangements of all elements were not as perfect as here therefore none of them could be selected to be showcased.
Creative Black And White Portraiture: Chinese Model Hugging Stone Fish
I really enjoy improvising and taking a photography session into different directions that were not planned at all. Some ideas pop into my mind that may be so random and unexpected that they may frazzle the model. Such was the case of the stone fish that I spotted in the backyard of one of my most favorite model’s house.
When I saw the stone fish I knew I wanted to use it but there was no immediate concept behind the idea. So I just said to the model to hug it, hold it let’s spend some time with exploring the idea and see where it leads. Even though I have a great chemistry with this model I sensed that she was not sold on the concept.
I think she still did a pretty good job and I like this portrait. After the photoshoot she admitted that she had no clue where this idea was heading but looking at the final image she gets it now and she likes the photo as well.
In bizarre situations some awkwardness that’s occurring is OK to incorporate into the image. The unease of the model will compliment the concept. But the uncertainty cannot be overpowering so it is important for the photographer to clearly communicate all ideas.
Knowing or sensing the model’s comfort level is also helpful. If it is a first photoshoot and all parties involved are strangers than a meeting before the photo session can be very helpful.
I find the greenish duo tone of the image to be perfect for the subject matter. The color version of the picture (if you can imagine) is completely inappropriate for this concept.
Exotic Locations: Black And White Rainforest Portrait Of Japanese Model
Exotic locations not only inspire photographers but models as well. There are portrait photography opportunities all the time, even during bikini or lingerie sessions. These portraits will gain additional intimacy from the surroundings and the intimate nature of the wardrobe.
When the surroundings are exotic locations like the Pali rainforest outside Honolulu, Hawaii the pictures almost take themselves. In the case of the beautiful Japanese fashion and bikini model we brought a spray bottle with us so we could get the wet hair look on demand.
There are a lot of mosquitoes at this location so we also used bug spray liberally. The waterproof bug spray has dual purpose, besides protection it repelled water so when we sprayed the model’s body, perfect water drops would form on her skin on the top of bug spray. The bug spray alone provides a look that resembles of slightly sweating skin which is the perfect look for lingerie or bikini concepts in the rainforest.
The above photo was illuminated only by the overcast sky which acted as a studio quality huge soft box. This type of soft diffused light is perfect for intimate, portrait or beauty photography,
Nighttime Edgy Black And White Female Portrait On A Hawaiian Beach
Another perfect location for dramatic edgy portraits with the wet hair look is the beach at night. I also like the few grains of sand on the model’s shoulder that got illuminated by the single on camera flash.
Taking simple but intimate portraits like this is quite possible without assistants or expensive photography gear. As long as the flash is not built into the camera and somewhat elevated the lens will not cast a shadow in the bottom of the picture. Alternately the flash can be held off the camera by the use of an extension cord to produce differently shaped shadows.
I do like the effect of this direct head-on type of illumination. It can have a harsh paparazzi like intrusive effect. In these instances the viewer may fell that he or she is watching a scene that is meant to be private.
If there is nothing behind the subject as far as the flash can illuminate the scene, night time photography provides images with empty black background. An uncluttered background especially for portrait photography is a highly sought after element especially for on location photographers.
I already prefer to photography female models with strong features, (a well defined jaw line is almost a prerequisite) but especially for dramatic, edgy nighttime photography session strong features are really important. A model with a sweet and cute look would not be right for these type of pictures.
Vantage Points In Portrait Photography: German Lingerie Model From Above
There are always obvious vantage points from which the first few pictures are taken during any photoshoot. When the usual angles have been photographed it is always a good idea if time permits to explore more extreme compositions.
In the case of the blonde German lingerie model I stood up on a chair which was quite close to her. By having to look up from this position a whole new set of lines and silhouette was created by her strong bone structure. Her neck and back also created lines that were not visible from previous angles.
Looking up also creates a new look for the the iris of the eyes. The bottom of the eyes’ irises are no longer hidden behind the bottom eyelid. The bottom of the irises are now curved resulting in a completely different look than what is captured from eye level.
Depending on the personality of the model being photographed from above can put them in an inferior state of mind which can translate to the picture. In turn the viewer gains a superior position, somewhat dominating the subject. This makes for a more powerful viewing experience.
Dynamic Female Portraits With Diagonal Lines: Sand, Shells And Wet Hair
Incorporating diagonal lines into the composition will add drama, excitement and a sense of movement to the picture. I find this even more true for black and white images.
One way to create dramatic diagonal lines when photographing on the beach or in the rainforest is to wet the model’s hair and have her toss it. Adding the wet hair look is a great way to spice up and photoshoot especially when there is no hair stylist on set. Of course this look should be utilized towards the end of the photoshoot because there will be no going back after.
The above photo contains diagonal lines besides the falling hair via the shell necklace, the collar bone and the upper arm of the model. Admittedly this image has an unusual composition and arrangement of elements. It was taken as I was standing above the model who was leaning back on her elbows with some camera tilt.
The grains of sand are even more visible in the black and white version of this photo. Actually this conversion is far superior to the original digital color version perhaps due to the great tonal contrast besides the exotic and dramatic subject matter.
Soft Light For Innocent, Pure Portraits: Russian Girl In Open Shade
Location scouting while traveling is both exciting and challenging. All photos will be unique due to the ever changing places visited. To create innocent and pure portraits soft light is necessary. Without a studio or portable soft boxes the traveling photographer either needs overcast sky or bright open shade.
I was lucky enough not only to find open shade but an empty wall as a background when I took the above portrait in Berlin, Germany of a Russian girl and amateur model. An uncrowded background is always high on the priorities of a traveling on-location photographer. When a simple background is blurred with a long enough lens or a wide enough aperture the resulting backdrop seems like it is the part of a professional studio set.
This particular image was created in a courtyard of the apartment building where I stayed. The yard was surrounded by the neighboring buildings that were all brightly colored. The walls that were facing the sun acted as gigantic soft boxes flooding the yard with soft diffused light.
What is also great about bright open shade is that if the model is facing towards the source of illumination her eyes will have catch light (sparkle) in them. This catch light is so important for vibrant and alive portraits that for portraits taken in a studio there is often one light dedicated just to ensure the presence of a catch light.
With open shade there are no ugly shadows on the face of the model, she is not forced to squint and the temperature is also lower. This picture works a lot better in black and white as well. The innocent, pure beauty of the Russian girl is made timeless without colors.
Strength And Confidence In Female Portraits: Fierce Chinese Beauty
I love this fierce black and white portrait of a beautiful Chinese model. Strength, confidence, intelligence femininity are all traits I am looking for when casting models. This picture has all the characteristics needed for a successful black and white portrait. It has nice tonal contrast plus interesting conflicting shapes and lines.
I like how the gentle curves of he model’s hair, eyebrows and shoulder are offset by the razor sharp looking long leaves. I made sure of course that the left eye peeks through the leaves. The leaves also act as a half mask, hiding some of the model’s face.
I would categorize this composition as somewhat strange but its uniqueness is a reminder how I enjoy experimenting with subtle variations of each setup and perhaps create a completely unplanned picture.
Some of the details of the making of this picture are rather unremarkable, meaning any amateur photographer can create such images without assistants or an elaborate lighting equipment. The plant was in an open shade next to the model’s house where we were shooting (same shoot as the fish hugging picture is from). We walked up to the plant, I asked the model to stand close to it and let’s see what happens and how it looks.
Intimate Black And White Portraits With Beautiful First Time Model
The above picture of a beautiful Belgian first time model is the result and a great example of how to travel the world with minimal photography gear and do photoshoots with diverse models at diverse locations for absolutely free.
The wardrobe and accessories were provided by the model and so was the light, natural make-up. The location was the harbor of Antwerp which is one of the busiest ports of Europe. But it was not hard to find a quiet area where we used freight train wagon for the above image.
There has to be a certain degree of chemistry between model and photographer for images like this to be created which can be established during a pre-photoshoot meeting or during the session by keeping a slow pace and letting the model just be herself. This could not be more true with first time models.
If there is no pre-photoshoot meeting and the model’s self confidence and intelligence cannot be measured beforehand it is a matter of luck if the model will shine during her first sitting. Of course there is a lot the photographer can do by easing and tension or nervousness.
Confidence can be installed into the model by not starting the session with risque concepts like bikini or lingerie. Having the model provide her own clothes not only saves money but her wearing her own clothes adds to her feeling more comfortable. As always I asked the model to bring interesting descriptive large items like hats, bags, jewelry and any other accessory. The large Russian fur hat was a great choice by her and was a crucial wardrobe piece.
The wagon was a great location, its side planks provided attractive but still generic background. The back lighting gives the image a soft light feel which is in harmony with the youthful look and beauty of the model.
Not a dramatic but a beautiful and natural portrait of the previous model. With chemistry established we were continuing with not to risque concepts such as beauty headshots. The sky was overcast but without dark clouds so there was plenty of soft diffused light. The sun that was behind clouds was placed behind the model which created a nice hair light. This is important because in a conventional studio setup there is a light dedicated just to illuminate the hair.
A long enough lens and wide enough aperture ensured that the background remained out of focus. I like to use compositions with such close crop so there are no distracting details in the picture that would take away from the impact of the model’s beauty.
Tonal Contrast For Dramatic Black And White Portraits: White Pearl Necklace
A great example of how tonal contrast effects black and white photos can be seen on the picture of our beautiful Belgian model wearing a white pearl necklace and black bra during a fashion / lingerie photoshoot. Obviously if the wardrobe and the accessories of the model contain black and white pieces, those ensembles will be the most successful for black and white conversions.
But the same effect can be achieved let’s say with a dark purple bra and light peach pearls. The slightly less tonal contrast can be tweaked and exaggerated in photoshop either by simply raising the contrast or by dodging and burning.
In this photo the black and white pieces in a way alternate, black sunglasses, white pearls, black bra and white winter coat. The white of the coat is slightly overexposed, I could have done a better job during RAW conversion to save some detail in the coat.
This raises the issue of how to expose scenes with substantial black and white elements. Slightly underexposing is always the safer way to go because blown out highlights are harder or impossible to recover detail in.
Portrait Photography Under Cloudy Sky: Local Hawaiian Beauty In Rainforest
As a traveling on location photographer my portfolio is filled with portraits taken under cloudy skies. For beauty shots undoubtedly overcast skies are the best. They allow for better backdrops as well because the photographer is not limited to open shade.
This portrait of a local Hawaiian beauty from the Big Island is a great example how soft diffused light illuminates the face even in the case of the rainforest. There was just a small opening above out head in the rainforest canopy. This caused the light to be highly directional which can somewhat harden the features of models.
The subtle shadows which are still risque shadows in portrait photography happen to compliment and emphasize the high cheekbones of the model here. The slightly warmer tone of this black and white conversion was more suited for the organic nature of the tropical location than using pure blacks and whites.
Because the small patch of overcast sky was right above us the catch light (sparkle in the eyes) must be coming from an artificial source. It is courtesy of a low level flash burst. Using a modest amount of fill flash is good practice when working with any directional light if the photographer’s goal is to create a softer look.
Accidental Black And White Portraits: Close-up Snapshot Of Beautiful Face
Some of the most memorable images can be informal snapshots created during formal photoshoots. Often times during a brief break between setups the model may let her guard down providing opportunities for even more intimate portraits than what would have been possible under direction.
I believe because of the intimate nature of these portraits they are best presented in black and white. Without color they look timeless and romantic.
A perfect example is the snapshot portrait above. The photography session was already over. As the model stood in front of the bright window putting away her clothes I saw this wonderful opportunity. I lifted my camera and asked her to look towards me. The photo session that just ended was a productive one and we had good chemistry during the shoot.
I love the quiet, somewhat mysterious mood that is coupled with a touch of melancholy. There are also a few beautiful unexpected elements to this portrait that was pure luck but may look like deliberate photographic decisions.
The way the model’s nose is highlighted is just perfect. Also how the edge of her left cheek disappears into the light.
This is the original crop the way the portrait was composed in the camera. I am happy and proud that this was the result of my instinctive composition. Although I do favor close cropped portraits, there was a lot that could have gone wrong in a case of a snapshot.
Restroom Portrait Photography: Beautiful Asian Model In Trucker Hat
These two images of a beautiful Asian model wearing a trucker hat were taken in the men’s room of the Zanzabar Night Club in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Their color versions can be found under “Beautiful Female Portrait Photos” under related posts. The real reason these pictures are here is not because I really like both color and black and white versions.
The color version is way superior in my opinion but perhaps something can be learned from unsuccessful black and white conversions as well. In the case of this photoshoot I had several different compositions of this setup and some are more eligible for black and white conversion than others.
But first about the photo above: this the the less successful black and white conversion. There is not enough tonal contrast, besides the beauty of the model not much stands out. There aren’t any interesting or dramatic lines, shapes or textures. The only exception is the lines in the wall but the portrait is too closely cropped for it to be dominant. And of course a picture i s in a little bit of trouble if it has to rely on lines in the background.
Perhaps by lighting the face of the model by applying a color filter during black and white conversion would create some tonal contrast. But that would move into a level of Photoshopping that I rather avoid.
The following image is a better candidate for black and white conversion:
There are clearly contrasting large areas in this image. Especially the shoulder and the jaw line of the model stand out against the dark background. There are strong lines as well, besides the shoulder and the jaw line the visor of the trucker hat and the the model’s cascading hair also add separation between the different elements in the photo.
Especially when photographing with digital camera and previewing in color determining which setups will look great in black and white takes time to master. It is a different way of seeing. The more pictures the photographer takes and the more mistakes are made the faster this learning process will be.
Viewing other artists’ works is also a great way to train the eyes and the brain as well.
Thing to generally avoid when planning for black and white digital conversion: busy backgrounds, fabrics with busy prints, non-black or non-white fabrics, not bright or dark enough fabrics and too dim light.
Backlighting And Portrait Photography: Dramatic Edgy Chinese Model
Backlighting can aid in creating professional looking portraits in both color and black and white. The way the light floods the image gives it a surreal, whimsical, ethereal look. This style is often used in fashion and editorial photography but works well for portraits too.
This portrait of one of my all time favorite models is a perfect example of the style of backlighting. Taken in her bathroom without any fancy lighting equipment, the main light source was the window behind the model. The fill light that actually illuminated her face was the reflected light from the white walls of the bathroom which acted like large reflectors.
This style should be in the toolkit of every budget conscious amateur or traveling photographer. There isn’t one perfect exposure therefore any light metering mistake can be explained as creative freedom or artistic interpretation.
The composition of this portrait takes full advantage of the rule of thirds, notice how the left eye of the model is in the “cross hairs”. The hunched over posture creates a diagonal using the hair, neck, back and arms.
A lucky coincidence which I could have set up but it just happened is how there is a lot of black hair behind the model’s neck and jaw line. The tonal contrast is created this way is a very important ingredient for dramatic black and white pictures. The photo would have been a lot weaker if those defined body parts would have been against a white background.
Most of the time I am conscious about composing and positioning the model in such way that there is maximum contrast between her and the background. Of course there are times that it gets missed and other times it makes it into the picture by pure luck.
Available Light Portrait Photography: Beautiful Asian Models In Rainforest
The picture above and below demonstrate two extreme examples of how available light can create mood during on location model photography.
The first picture was taken at one of my most favorite Hawaiian rainforest locations in the Pali mountains.
It was an effortless photo session where the rainforest was constantly presenting its gifts waiting to be captured. This time a gap in the rainforest canopy let in the sunlight creating a strong spotlight effect. The picture was taken between setups as the model was taking a break and unexpectedly moved into the light. I told her to stop and look into the camera.
Everything is accidental as it was presented to me. The proportion of her face which is in and out of the sun is just perfect. I especially like how the shadow trails down from the model’s temple along her cheek towards her chin.
I don’t even mind her nose being overexposed as the light was quite strong in the middle of the spotlight anyways. There was enough light bouncing back from her shoulder to illuminate her earring which adds an eye catching shape to the composition.
This picture was taken on a rainy day in Hawaii’s famous Manoa Valley rainforest close to the waterfall. Not having a weather proof camera meant the photoshoot was over before it started. But as the model put on her Northface rain jacket, its hoodie beautifully framed her face inspiring me to take this picture.
The soft diffused light was coming from straight above due to the dense vegetation around us as one can see by the way the shadows are formed on the model’s face. This directional light created a dramatic look, adding an enhanced 3D effect to the portrait.
Fortunately the model had strong features which could be accentuated further. This portrait lighting and concept would not have worked with a sweet or cute model. Perhaps because the jacket was green and all the green around us it was fitting to add a green tint to the image.
Popular Portrait Photography Style: Shadows On Face Of Chinese Model
Shadows on the face can be a tricky concept when it comes to portrait or model photography. But when properly controlled shadows can elevate portraits to new heights. They can add the feeling of mystery or strength to the picture.
One thing to consider is that the human eye can handle more contrast than the camera. This does not mean that high contrast set ups will not work, they will be just more pronounced than how they appear in real life.
I could not come up with a rule about how to place shadows on a face. Whether or not the eyes should be in the shaded or in the lit area, or the proportion of shaded/lit areas. Even a slight movement of the model’s head will create a completely different look and feel so playing it by ear and experimenting seems to be the best way to go about the photoshoot.
If the light source is too strong for the model to look into even for a second, and looking away is a must, it can also be incorporated into the concept and aim for a more whimsical or dreamy look.
Strong Jaw Lines In Portraits: Exotic Multi Ethnic Model With Beautiful Face
I am a big fan of strong jaw line and the androgynous look. Chiseled, square faces are not only attractive in male model photography. These often intimidating features can be further exaggerated with dramatic, directional lighting even on location using ambient light source.
This location had a directional light source coming from the occasional gap of the rainforest canopy. This type of light will bring out cheekbones and separates the jaw line.
Some photographers might be inclined to fill some of the shadows created with this natural top lighting using a reflector or fill flash. But I do like the effect these natural shadows create and not just because I like to photograph alone without assistants and without much extra gear.
A technique for bringing out the jaw line is to take portrait pictures with the model’s head turned. It is a more graceful and feminine pose, it elongates the neck and increases the contrast between the jaw and the background.
Side Lit Portraits: Edgy Black And White Photograph At Sunrise
Side lighting is one of the easiest ways to add a three dimensional effect to portraits. There are two main options: either covering the opposite side of the face completely with shadow or to have some light pass over the nose and highlight some of the opposite cheek and the eye. The picture above is an example of the former method.
The photoshoot took place at sunrise which is short and precious at the latitude of Hawaii. So to save time there was less chance for fine tuning the angle of the model’s head. Another consideration was that the model was a first time model in which case I prefer less direction. This way the model does not get preoccupied with trying to do a perfect job and stops constantly concentrating on posing.
I like many things about this dramatic portrait, some aspects were consciously decided so me were coincidences which are always a big and vital part of my on location photography sessions. I like the angle of the shot, I stood up on a large lava rock and shot downward to get the model to look up which is one of my most favorite compositions.
When the model is looking up the bottom of her iris is no longer hidden behind her lower eyelid. The iris this way creates a crest shape which is unusual due to it being rare sight in everyday life.
When the model is looking up there is a different relationship between the neck and the chin. The photographer can literally rearrange the model’s face to create a more dramatic effect.
On the accidental side I like the contrast between the brightly lit left earlobe and the left earring is the dark lava rocks in the background. Sometimes these details are deliberate but it was not the case this morning due to the hurried schedule to take full advantage of the few magic minutes of the early morning light.
Harsh Paparazzi Flash Effect: Edgy Russian Model With Strong Features
For many photographers who work alone without a professional studio finding ideal lighting conditions on location is often challenging. And when there is not enough ambient light, it is often time for the dreaded flash. Flash when attached to the camera hardly ever provides artistic lighting. Without assistants, managing remote flash units especially in challenging locations like the beach or rainforest can be more of a hindrance.
I do enjoy using the indiscriminate harsh flash from time to time when the look of the photo actually improves from this type of light source. In the case of the above picture there was no way to do photography any other way. There was a thunderstorm on the Belgian countryside and we had to retreat to the model’s car.
I did not want to head home yet in case the weather cleared but wanted to shoot while waiting.
The Nikon SB-800 beautifully performed even in such close quarters. The way the flash lighted the scene resulted in a paparazzi type picture. Invasive, one directional, in your face, quite possibly capturing a private moment.
Creative Half Crop: Portrait Of Beautiful Japanese Model With Wet Hair
Although not a frequent user of half crop in the case of this beautiful Japanese model the two halves resulted in two distinct images. The face of the model was perfectly symmetric but how her wet hair was tossed created the difference.
The portrait was taken in open shade during high noon when being in the sun would have been blinding for the model. Also without assistants, reflectors and pro lighting gear it is hard to manage unattractive shadows on the model’s face at this time of the day.
Open shade offers perfect soft even light which is a must for beauty photography. The big bright sky created a large catch light (highlight / sparkle) in the model’s eye which is often recreated in Photoshop if not present naturally to give life to the eyes.