Some images from a children’s shoot this past weekend.
While I am primarily a color photographer, I think black and white is in every photographer’s veins. As Robert Frank put it, “Black and white are the colors of photography.” There is a timeless aspect to black and white photographs, and I think for portraits they make a lot of sense. In commercial photographs of product, or in a headshot for casting purposes, color conveys needed information. In some cases (and I say “some” as, at least from my perspective, I do use color a lot) color can add an unnecessary ingredient, a complication. Jay Maisel put it this way: “Light, gesture, color: pick any 2”. Color can add emotion, but its absence can also magnify that emotion. I think that is the case here.
For non-commercial purposes, I think black and white headshots can also be more interesting as well:
I like a lot of contrast in my black and whites. Like a lot of photographers, Ansel Adams was an early, powerful influence. While I am by no means a landscape photographer, the Zone System runs deep. I’m not sure if the jpeg images here reflect their true tonality, but in print I want all of the zones represented (including paper white and no detail shadows – at least in some part of the image – not necessarily in areas of consequence, but I want that full tonality range contained in the image).
For portraits outside the studio (or really, any image of people outdoors) I also want that background out of focus. So I shoot wide open on my lenses (or try to – I have this annoying habit of hitting the front control wheel of my a7R2) – this is where quality comes into play. Just about any lens is decent at f/8. At f/1.8 is where the difference between a quality lens and an often less expensive lens shows. Big time. I want that contrast between the tack sharpness that digital imaging with a large sensor is capable of, and the creamy, dreamy rendition of the background that a lens with beautiful bokeh delivers. This is also rapidly weening me off of zooms, although the 70-200 isn’t bad. Not bad?. The 55mm FE f/1.8 can be breathtaking, as can the 85mm Batis.
For headshots in studio with a simple background (black or white), I use less aperture. But since I use a focal length of 85-100mm or so, and since I am close, there is falloff even at around f/5.6 or so. I want that plane of the face, and especially the eyes, tack sharp. But I do want falloff as you leave the facial plane so that the ears and back shoulder start to go soft. That happens with a longer lens up close, even with moderate aperture.
These are some of photography’s gifts to the world – focus, and black & white. They help make those precious moments in time come alive – forever.