How to take dramatic black and white portraits of children

Oct 27, 2009

When I look through a viewfinder, I see the world in black and white, or better yet, light and dark.  The word photography actually means writing in light in Greek (photos + graphos).  I love this definition because it captures the essence of photography.  Light travels through an opening in a box (that is, the camera), where it records a single moment in time.

When taking portraits of children,  I look for how light shapes their faces.  Sometimes I like to shoot more dramatic pictures, where there is a strong contrast between the subject and the background. Here are some tips on how to set up photographs like the ones shown here.

1.  Use a single light source indoors, like a window, or diffused light outside.  Have the child facing the light.

2.  Create distance between the subject and the dim background.  If you're outside, for example, have the child stand in front of an open door (which was the setup for the portrait below). 

3.  Shoot with a large aperture (which means a smaller number!). This will create a narrow plane of focus and blur the background. Switch from automatic mode on your camera to aperture-priority.  This is usually the setting that starts with an "A" on the top dial. 

4. If you have a zoom lens, get in close by using a longer focal length.  With portraits, I shoot with 85mm the most.

5. Get down at the child's level.  This makes it easier to engage with the child and capture spontaneous facial expressions.

6. Don't have your subjects "say cheese" unless you're going for the fake smile look.  If you want a natural smile, then make a funny face.  I actually try to take all candid shots.  I don't even mind photos with food on their faces!


Anonymous said...

Great photos! I'm looking forward to trying your pointers out.

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