Black & White Portrait Techniques with Soft Light

Black and white photographs are usually associated with directional, harsh light. This results in high contrast images which are attractive to the eye. But what about soft light? Does it work with black and white images? Photographer Mark Wallace from Adorama tries it out in this video:

Using a Hard Light Modifier

Wallace starts off the traditional way by using a hard light modifier, the Profoto Magnum Reflector. This helps him get a hard and directional light, which is great for black and white photography. He places the light not in front of, but to the side of the model. Having the light to the side accentuates contrast. With the light metered at f/11, he gets the following images:

high contrast black and white portrait

lighting for black and white

Using a Soft Light Modifier

Not so happy with the results, Wallace sets up a strip light, which is a soft light modifier. He again positions the light to the side of the model. With the light metered at f/9, he gets the following images:

black and white portrait with strip light

lighting techniques

The images are too contrasty for his liking, so Wallace adds a white foam board to act as a reflector. It bounces some of the light back to the scene and fills in some shadows, thereby reducing the contrast.

before image

after image

black and white portrait photoshoot

black and white portrait with soft lighting

“The lesson to learn here is, even though you’ve shot something a million times and it’s always worked the same way, sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. You have to be willing to  experiment and try new things. And so, our soft light worked better than our hard light.”

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