There’s a simple tool for making your black and white portraits look great with little or no retouching. It’s called a color filter. We often retouch things like pimples and redness or uneven skin tones, and these things can take a lot of time on each portrait. But when you make black and whites, you can use a color filter tool to remove uneven skin tones and sculpt beautifully contrasty portraits at the same time. What’s more, you can do it in the camera and with software like Luminar.
In-Camera Black and White
I often recommend setting your camera to black and white while shooting so you can see the results right away. Doing this, you’ll train your eye to see things that will make better photos, whether in color or black and white. Graphic elements become more apparent, and busy backgrounds are easier to notice without the distraction of color.
Plus, it’s just fun to see the black and whites, and your subjects will enjoy it, too.
There are two settings you need to set on your camera. First, if you shoot only RAW files, then when you view them on the computer you will see a color image. If you shoot RAW+JPG you will get a color RAW file and black and white jpeg file. Personally, I shoot RAW because I get a lot more control over the file.
Second, when you activate the black and white or Monochrome setting on your camera, you need to get deeper into the setting instead of just choosing Monochrome–check your manual. You’ll find a spot where you can activate colored filters. More about what these do next, but I’d recommend an Orange or Red filter for portraits.
The Power of Colored Filters
Even though you’ve removed the color from a photo, the tones of the colors are what determine the tones of your monochrome photo. Basically, a darker red will be a darker tone than a light pink. But you can control how bright the colors are using colored filters, and this is a technique that started with film photography. Now, the camera or the computer does it digitally.
If you use a red filter, then red things will appear whiter in your photo, and green things will appear darker–green is the opposite of red on the color wheel, and so it is darkened by a red filter. If you use a yellow filter, things with yellow hues become whiter, and blue things become darker. That’s how Ansel Adams made the sky appear black in his daytime landscapes.
Skins tones for all peoples have lots of orange and red. Using an Orange filter homogenizes the skin tones and reduces the time you’ll spend retouching portraits. A red filter is good, too, but it’ll make red lips look more like the rest of the skin on lighter toned skin. Yellow is also worth experimenting with.
Utilizing colored filters in your processing is simple. Open your color photo in Luminar and add the B&W Conversion filter.
Start by clicking on the colored circles at the top of the filter, which represents the different colored filters. You’ll notice that as you click each filter, the color sliders below the filters move into a preset position. Those sliders adjust the brightness of the colors in the original color photo. Your camera doesn’t give you full control of those color sliders, which I why I prefer to shoot in RAW and convert my favorites to black and white in Luminar. I’ve used a lot of software apps to make black and whites, but none does it better than Luminar. As you move the color sliders around they don’t separate the colors and create artifacts as happens in Lightroom.
This photo doesn’t show much change in the skin between the red, orange, and yellow filters, but boy does that green filter have an effect. The red filter makes the red lips less intense and the skin brighter, while the green filter makes the lips dark and the skin darker, too. I once met a photographer who said when he shot fashion on black and white film he’d use a red filter but put green lipstick on the models so the skin looked flawless and the lips were still contrasty. I chose the Orange filter in this case.
That’s the nuts and bolts of using colored filters to create stunning black and white portraits with less retouching. Luminar is my favorite tool for sculpting black and whites, and we haven’t even touched on the detail, glow, vignette or other presets and tools that are so powerful for finishing your portraits.
Use an Orange or Red or Yellow filter in the camera or in your processing to reduce uneven skin tones and speed up your retouching. Your subjects will love both the striking black and whites you make as well as the smooth-looking skin. Turn on the Monochrome settings in your camera, shoot RAW, and finish in Luminar. Your subjects will love seeing their portrait in black and white immediately on the camera, and they won’t be distracted by their own skin blemishes. You’ll end up having a better time shooting and sharing more options with your subjects.