Archive for May, 2009


Classic Qualities of Black and White

A good black and white photograph can have a timeless, classic feeling to it.

Subconsciously, we’re drawn back to images of the early days of photography – Matthew Brady’s pictures from the Civil War era, for example.  More recently, the fashion and portrait photography of greats like Karsh, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were mostly in black and white.  Photographers today who shoot in black and white are, in some sense, standing on the shoulders of classic works that were created in the past.

Here’s a recent photgraph I took. This subject’s name is Gena.


I like the image a lot. The look and feel could be from the 1960’s or 1970’s as easily as today. Because we don’t see any clothes (she was wearing a tank top that is covered by her hair), we don’t have any clues about fashion or style that might tell us when the image was made.   The somewhat enigmatic expression, with her mouth slightly open and a direct gaze by her eyes, echoes some classic images from fashion and portrait photographs of recent decades. The hair style could be from any period.  And, to be sure, Gena is a natural and classic beauty.  In addition, she really knows how to pose.  While not a professional model, Gena worked as a photo editor for a fashion magazine and thus knows intimately the ingredients of a successful photograph.

My good friend, Maria Dominici (see Maria’s website) did the makeup for this shot.  Maria’s wonderful and careful work brought out Gena’s natural beauty without getting in the way. We don’t notice the makeup, the sign of a truly professional makeup artist!

The lighting is coming down at about a 45 degree angle, from straight ahead and above. (Notice where the catch-lights in her eyes are). This is a classic lighting setup that usually renders a flattering image. Overall, this lighting is soft, but we definitely see the contours of Gena’s face.

In the early days of digital photography, black and white images could not compare with the look and feel of photographs made from film. In the last few years, digital has improved to the point where it’s impossible to tell the difference.  (Some purists and Luddites may disagree with me!)  In converting this image to back and white, I used a “plug-in” software for Photoshop that mimics the look of a specific old black and white film.

here’s the color version of this image.


Even the color version has a fairly narrow palette of colors. Still it’s a very different photograph, don’t you think?

Look carefully at the two versions. Which one appeals to you? What feelings/emotions are triggered by each one? 

In future posts, we’ll talk more about color versus black and white.



Taking a photograph can – actually should – create a sense of intimacy between the photographer and the subject.

In my portrait work, I take a lot of time getting to know the client, trying to make her (or him)  comfortable and at ease, learning every thing I can about the person, answering any questions and concerns. Most people are hesitant to have their picture taken to some degree or another (a subject for a future post).  I try my best to help the client overcome that hesitancy.

For a portrait to be successful, the image should portray something about the personality of the subject. The time I spend with the person before the shoot helps me to uncover some ideas for the shoot that will reveal a part of the personality. An if there is that sense of intimacy developed, then it shines through in the picture. And that sense of intimacy and connection hopefully carries over to someone who views the image later on.

By intimacy, I certainly don’t mean crossing any boundaries of appropriate behavior. I’m extremely careful about this, for all the obvious reasons.  But a sense of trust and closeness can be developed while maintaining a professional, courteous and – I’ll use an old-fashioned word here – gentlemanly approach.

This picture is of a model who uses the name  Mayhem Muse. I spent the good part of a day with her. We had a wonderful makeup artist as part of the shoot, Michelle Abbruzzese. Check out Michelle’s fabulous work at her website. We shot a wide variety of looks, wardrobe, lighting and poses.

In this image, Muse’s hair is slightly wild and unruly, aided partially by a fan which I brought into the studio. Yet her facial expression also shows a quiet sense of contemplation or reflection. As I got to know Muse, I saw these two sides of her personality and tried to represent them in the photograph.  The lighting was designed to complement the idea of the two sides of Muse. The lighting is fairly high contrast, with two lights coming in at almost 90 degrees from each side.

This image would have been impossible to create wihtout taking the steps to develop a feeling of trust and connection with Muse.

Addendum: After I first posted this article, this image won a second prize in the annual Darien Art Show, in the color photography category. The great team we had on the shoot – Muse, the model, and Michelle, the makeup artist, made this a successful image.

Photo Tip: Take the time to really get to know your subject – to become intimate.