A beginner´s guide to Monochrome Photography and Portrait Photography 

The process of practising monochrome photography and portrait photography are very similar. Both mediums acquire great attention to detail and a deep understanding of composition and light. In colour photographs, the colours have a tendency to dominate the picture, which leads to difficulties in seeing the other elements of the photograph, such as the quality of light, texture, shape and contrast. In comparison to colour photographs, monochrome photography is all about light and composition, the enhancement of textures to create depth. Portrait photography and landscape photography are the two categories of photography that look the best in a monochrome setting. Combining monochrome and portrait photography is an effective way of practising both mediums.

A reflection upon the unknown

There are this allure and exploration to monochrome photography. The lack of colour, in contrast to the quality of light and textures, presents us with a different understanding of reality. A reality that is deeper and more meaningful, a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. Portrait photography has the same sort of allure and exploration to it, it is a medium which explores a person soul, what lies underneath the surface, a glimpse into the reality of others. 

It is the reflection upon something deeper, the exploration of what lies just outside of view, that has always drawn me into practising monochrome and portrait photography. 

A visually intriguing math problem

One of the best ways to get started in practising monochrome and portrait photography is to create your own album of inspirational pictures. Look for pictures that you find visually intriguing, I recommend looking at different types of media, search both online and look at prints. Once you have found pictures that stimulate your imagination and creativity, start to deconstruct them by visually analyze the photographs. During this practice step away from analyzing the subject of the photograph, only look at the quality of light, composition, textures and lines. If you have the opportunity to use a print, could even be a print out from Google image search and mark out the most distinctive lines you can found in the photograph. Where do the lines lead to, where do they cross? Soon you realize that photographs on a basic level are like a math problem, just like the numbers in an equation needs to add up, all the lines in a photograph needs to add up to in order to create harmony in the picture. 


Photo credits: Lisa Ströhm Winberg

The Starter Kit Of An Aspiring Artist 

Once you have visually deconstructed a few photographs it is time to start reflecting upon camera equipment. Some like to start by using what they have at hand, others like to invest early on in the process. No matter how you choose to go about it, remember that as a beginner you do not want to go bankrupt on the first stage of your photography journey. Therefore investing in the most essential equipment as you go along is recommended. 

In the following texts, we will explore essential camera equipment for portrait and monochrome photography.  

A Shadow Is Diminution Of Light

With the absence of colour in monochrome photography, the lighting takes on even more importance. The contrast of light and shadows are necessary to consider in the process of creating depth and enhancing textures. A reflector comes very handy if you wish to easily enhance and direct light. The reflector work by reflecting light from another light source, such as natural light from the sun, or artificial lighting from a continuous light. In portrait photography, a reflector will help lighten your subject. You can be creative and lighten the subject in many different ways by directing the light from different angles. The diversity of a reflector, and how it can be used in many different settings, both on location and in the studio, make in a good investment.

“Darkness is the absence of light. Shadow is the diminution of light.”

– Leonardo Da Vinci 

A Tree-legged Friend

A Tripod gives you the freedom to move around, while a three-legged friend is holding your camera for you. The freedom gives you the ability to move around as you like, you can change the background, perfect the lighting or even come back the next day. And when you take your position behind the camera again you still have the same view as before. A tripod also reduces any sort of shaking from your hands, which if you shoot on a long shutter speed will make the final outcome less shaky.

The Memory To Capture Moments 

As a beginner, you will photograph thousands of pictures before you learn how everything works. It is a learning process. I recommend photographing in RAW, this will take up extra space on your memory card, since the files capture and store more data. Always invest in an extra memory card and battery so you are ready for embarking on your journey as a photographer. There is nothing worse than missing out on a good picture because your memory card is full or your battery has died.

An Eye For Color 

A fun and educative way to explore your creativity are by using colour gel filters. Colour filters are inexpensive and a good investment, I have used them in my work both for portrait photography and monochrome photography. The filters give you a chance to be creative and practice your eye for colour, composition and lighting. The definition of monochrome photography is an image displaying a single colour, or different shades of a single colour. It is not just strictly black and white photography.

Your Personal Darkroom    

The final stage of the photography process is editing. Investing in an editing software gives you the opportunity to take your pictures to the next level. In terms of monochrome photography, I recommend you to begin with photographing in your cameras monochrome mode, which you find under settings. Then you will be able to see a monochrome photograph on your display instantly. When you are more comfortable in the working process shoot your pictures in colour and in RAW and convert them into black and white afterwards in an editing software. Personally I use Adobe Photoshop, however there are many free editing software on the market. 

Practice what I Preach 

Let go of any fear of failure as you embark on your journey towards mastering the mediums of monochrome photography and portrait photography. You can take beautiful pictures without having all the “necessary” equipment. The most important thing is that you find a way of practising photography that makes you happy and sparks your creativity. Stay persistent and practice, practising until you have taken your worst 10.000 photographs as Henri Cartier-Bresson would put it, and you will learn a lot.    

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