Dramatic Portraits in B&W

I recently had the chance to be a part of a fashion shoot at Bella Salon and Spa in Austin.  They were putting together some different looks to enter into a contest put on by a maker of hair styling products.  It was a good chance to photograph a number of models with a bunch of different looks.  It also put some healthy pressure on me to get a bunch of quality shots to meet their needs in a short time frame.  Mostly I shot basic head and shoulders shots suitable for a beauty and fashion portfolio.  

While I was there, I of course had to get some images for my own portfolio.  For each model that I worked with, I grabbed a few images with the intent of post processing in black and white with a bit of dramatic flare.  I wanted to share some of the shots I came up with.  As always, you can click on any image to view a larger size.  All black and white conversions were performed in Lightroom 4.1.  

This first image was shot against a white seamless backdrop that I exposed to a shade of gray.  A Westcott 28" softbox was used for my key light on all my shots.  I wanted a bit of drama in the images so I positioned the light in a sort of Rembrandt position and added fill light to taste.  I wanted some shadow to add some dimension without cutting the shadows too sharp since it was a fashion shoot.  In this shot, the model was positioned such that her hair framed her face.  This is one of the more standard portraits that I shot that evening. 

 This next shot is my favorite from the event.  To be perfectly honest, it was somewhat accidental.  The model stepped on to the set and I asked her to just stand on her mark while I grabbed a test shot to check my exposure.  At the time, I paid no attention to her pose.  I just looked at how the light was falling, checked the histogram, and then started the posed shooting.  When I saw this shot on my computer later, I was in love with this look.  I couldn't have directed a better expression and the shot converted beautifully into a black and white with a dramatic high key look.

After shooting with a couple of models, I decided that my space in a tiny corner of the salon was just too cramped.  I wandered around and found a red, maybe it was a purple (Have I mentioned I'm colorblind?) wall in another part of the salon and decided to ditch the paper and use the wall as a background.  My next model had some colorful makeup and a great dress that almost seemed a shame to convert to black and white!  Inspired by Hollywood portraits of the 30s and 40s, I went a glamorous look with an almost high key lighting on her face.  The textured background is something I overlaid on each of the shots against this wall in order to mask irregularities that I failed to notice during the shoot.  I ended up really liking the textured look!

This next model had a really interesting, almost morbid look.  The black veil made me think that she could have come from a funeral.  I decided to play on that idea and directed her into a contemplative, plausibly sorrowful expression.  A good bit of light was directed onto her face and I allowed her hair and veil to remain dark and moody.

The model below was a bit of a challenge in that she was new to modeling and I had to provide a lot of direction.  I think we were both a bit nervous at this busy event and most of the shots of her had a rather stern expression.  I played upon this with a classy looking toned image with low texture and a good bit of vignette.  The juxtaposition of her classic hair style and modern piercings made for an engaging portrait.

I wish I could have had a couple of hours with the next model.  Her stylist really rocked this Dia de los Muertos themed look!  I actually preferred my color images but I did want to do something in black and white.  I went with a fairly heavy texture and a darker look to create an emotive image.  Something I worked on with a few of the models was getting shots where I did not have eye contact.  In general, the eyes are the main "selling point" of a portrait.  However, I'm finding that a lack of eye contact can create a lot of emotion with the right pose, lighting, and environment.

One last image to share.  In spite of the mature look afforded by hair styling and makeup, I believe this was my youngest model at 14.  I went with a classy look here to match her traditional bouffant hair style.  The background was darkened to keep contrast with her darker skin.  You may notice in this shot in particular that while I did some smoothing of the models' skin in these portraits, I did not fix stray hair strands.  I thought about it and it is certainly easy enough to do.  Personally though, I kind of like these little imperfections.  They make for a more realistic representation in my book.  I try to make models look their best without resorting to Barbie doll perfection.  I'd love to hear other photographers' thoughts on this!

I hope you enjoy these portraits as much as I enjoyed working with these talented models and processing the images.  I really enjoy this style of black and white portraiture with a dramatic edge.  Look for more in the future as I continue to experiment and hone the art.  Thanks for looking!