With all the lovely color out there, why would you consciously choose to exclude it in your kid’s photography? There are a few reasons – especially if you are getting started with kid’ portraits and want to focus on other rules of composition without the distraction of color. That being said, there are a few things you’ll need to think about for black and white kid’s photography:
Before you photograph in black and white, you have to start thinking about what’s needed to set the scene for a black and white kid’s portrait. For example, you’ll want to look for tonal contrast between your child’s face, their clothing, and the background.
If you’re having trouble picturing thinks in monochrome, use the setting on your camera and snap some test shots of scenes and your kids to get an idea of how tonal contrast plays a part. When it comes time to photograph your child, you might want to use RAW mode, which will give you more flexibility in post-processing to adjust levels (but only if you are comfortable with the editing part).
For close-up portraits, the eyes are going to play a big part in creating your image. This can be a bit challenging with children’s portraits and will take some practice. Initially, you might want to work with a larger aperture (f/5.6-f/8) which will give you a bit more room for error. However, you’ll have to compensate by keeping the background in focus or move them farther away to keep the details blurred.
When you pull back and make your kids the focal point of your image you might have an easier time, as long as you work to make them stand out amongst their surroundings. Wearing contrasting clothing can certainly help, as well as using other composition techniques like leading lines and natural frames.
With color removed from black and white kid’s portraits, the expressions become even more important. Try to catch the little micro-changes in expression with continuous shooting (holding down the shutter button) – you’ll have to sort through more photos afterwards, but odds are you’ll get a few great expressions somewhere in there.
It might be a challenge to get your kids to vary their expressions, try out telling some stories, ask them questions, let them get involved in something, etc.
The fun thing about black and white photography when it comes to light as it’s almost the opposite of traditional portrait photography. You want to find areas of high contrast, which means that hard light (overhead sun) can work well. However, you want to aim to try different light sources so you can see the differences and find the type of lighting that best accentuates your kid’s attributes.
You can sometimes use a splash of color in a black and white photo to emphasize your focal point: a hairband, skirt, tie, various props, eyes, etc. For this, you’ll have to shoot in color and use editing software to let the color come through. Keep in mind that you’ll need to check that the image works in black and white before switching to color.
Instead of looking for the perfect conditions for black and white kid’s photography, try challenging yourself to photograph only in black and white for a week. You’ll quickly see the difference between full color and black and white photography and get used to seeing things in black and white. Whether you are at home, at the park, on the subway or somewhere else, you can certainly take advantage of the benefits of black and white photography when it comes to children’s portraits.