Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

Black and white is a wonderful media for making portraits because the lack of color immediately simplifies the image, causing you to focus on the real subject of the photograph instead of their clothing or surroundings. Sometimes the nature of the portrait subject demands that the image be photographed in black and white. Arnold Newman’s portrait of composer Igor Stravinsky could never have been made in color and have the same impact that is has as a monochrome image.

There are also the trendy aspects associated with creating images in black and white. MTV, motion pictures and fashion magazines periodically “rediscover” black and white as a way to reproduce photographs that are different from what’s currently being shown. Right now, many professional photographers are telling me that they’re seeing a higher than normal demand for black and white portraits than previously was the case. Individual and family portrait purchases like these are driven by these same trends.

The photograph of the late restaurateur and philanthropist Bruce Randolph was made by my wife, Mary Farace, as part of a series of portraits she did for a non-profit organization’s newsletter featuring people in Denver who had made a difference to those about them. Mr. Randolph was affectionately called “Daddy” Bruce by everyone and was well known for his kindness and generosity, especially for serving an annual Thanksgiving dinner for thousands of homeless and needy people. He was also known as a humble man of a few words. When interviewed by Jay Leno on TV he stated “I’m a cooker, not a talker.” Mary’s portrait of “Daddy” Bruce was made in a corner of his restaurant and used only the natural light coming in through a doorway.

No attempt to use fill flash or even a reflector was made in order to put “Daddy” Bruce at ease. She was only able to make a few exposures in the restaurant before she and he were whisked away to a ceremony changing the name of a street to Bruce Randolph Boulevard. While the images made at that ceremony were interesting and tell the story of the new street name, the natural light portraits made in his restaurant tell the story of the man. Daddy” Bruce’s portrait is an example of why I think there’s more to portraiture than perfect lighting, exact exposure, and precise focus. All of those elements are important, but the most critical aspect of any portrait assignment is that your subject trusts you and relaxes long enough so you can make an image of them as they really are.

Joe Farace is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography (http://amzn.to/i7TAsw).

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  1. [...] I’ve just noticed that the last few entries in the Portrait Project have been predominantly black and white. There’s a great article from Joe Farrace on how black and white portraits create impact. [...]

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