How to Add Character to Black and White Portraits

Taking portrait photographs is the main pastime of many amateur photographers and it can be very rewarding. A lot of people even venture into converting their digital portraits into black and white. This is where the results can become a little mixed. Luckily there is a little photography post production technique that you might be able to try. Here is one way we manage to get a little bit of extra detail into those black and white portraits.

Step 1) Fire up Photoshop or GIMP and load up your colour portrait. We are using a photo of Joe Biden from the Whitehouse website for this tutorial. Save the image as joe1.jpg

Step 2) Adjust the exposure setting of the image down 2 stops and save the image as joe2.jpg

Step 3) Adjust the exposure setting of the original image up 2 stops and save the image as joe3.jpg

You should now have three images that look something like these:

VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio

Step 4) Open up a HDR program. You can get a free trial of most of them or newer versions of Photoshop also have HDR conversion capability. Just do a Google search.

Step 5) Convert your three images into a HDR image and save it as a 16 bit .tif file. You should get something like this:

joe4

Step 6) Now open your .tif file up in Photoshop or GIMP and convert it to black and white using whatever method you prefer (we used Image>Adjustments>Black and White in Photoshop). You should get a reasonably decent black and white image of Joe. Something like this:

VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio

Step 7) Do and dodging and burning that you see fit and then adjust the levels to your tastes to get the final result. Something like this should be the result:

VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio

Now if you compare this to the original shot, then the original shot converted to black and white using traditional methods, we think the steps above produce a much more character filled portrait. (Click on the images to see the larger versions).

VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio

So there you have it! It IS possible to give a politician character!


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About the author

Rob Wood (Admin)

I'm Rob, the editor of Light Stalking. I try to keep this ship on course.

  • spodzone says:

    Alternatively, you could stick with the original with levels adjustment.

    Or, alternatively 2, the Gimp has an emulator of various black-and-white films, which will help position the tones quite nicely.

    I'm not seeing what HDR-from-one-image accomplishes that these techniques do not already achieve, which is not to say you can't do HDR (or, perhaps more usefully, tonemapping) if you want.


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