Creating images in B&W, everything appears more precise, shaped in a clear and concise way – just less visually distracted by “reality”, meaning the overwhelming, loud colors.

Reduced to the essentials, so to say.

Rely on your creative spark and you can easily achieve awesome results by means of today’s digital workflow. You will immediately serve emotions, automatically work with the feel of class, timelessness, and an artful approach.

I am passionately driven by the beauty of women (nude or non-nude). So if I choose the B&W approach for a series, I want to show my personal view of the scene by means of expressing strong B&W emotions.

Let’s now have a detailed look into the practical side of shooting and creating B&W imagery…

Sexy Romantic Look On A Budget

2 - SEXY Romantic Results-Art Nude Model Hanna-1 - B&W Photography Digital2 - SEXY Romantic Results-Art Nude Model Hanna2 - B&W Photography Digital

Important is to create a distinct feeling when going for a specific look. In this set, I want my model Hanna to bring across a dreamy and romantic feel. It just requires a few ingredients in order to become a successful project. Yet the interplay of these elements is the most important factor.
Key elements for putting this series to work are:

  • Soft, natural lighting character
  • Light, decent styling & meaningful props
  • Natural make-up and hair
  • Unagitated posing
  • A correct B&W conversion strategy that supports/enhances the look further

Story, Styling, Props & Expressions

3 - Photo Set Scenery Setting Table - B&W Photography Digital

Model Hanna wears a flowing blouse with lace shoulder detail which hangs from her body loose and casual. The blouse is unbuttoned halfway down the front and exposes one breast in a way that feels accidental, or makes us think Hanna is unaware, or alone, this reinforces our suspicion that she is daydreaming.
The flowers that have been tied into Hanna’s classically styled hair associate feelings of softness, sensitivity and delicacy. The undone strands that hang across her face reinforce the same feelings that her open blouse does: innocence and vulnerability.

Hanna’s make up is light yet visible, it is elegant and classic, achieving romance. Hanna’s bare feet are peaceful and relaxed; she doesn’t need protection; she is safe. Another indication to Hanna’s romantic feeling is the book Love Poems by Herman Hesse and the roses suggest the presence of a mysterious someone.

4 - SEXY Romantic Results -Art Nude Model Hanna4 - B&W Photography Digital4 - SEXY Romantic Results -Art Nude Model Hanna3 - B&W Photography Digital

Camera Setting Tips for B&W Shoots

  1. Set the sensor’s sensitivity to a value as low as possible. The lowest ISO setting 100/200 (Base ISO) provides you with the best picture quality. Noise can be added in numerous variations during post-production. Note: I shot this set with ISO 800 to better mix/immerse the natural ambient light. There’s still no noise visible due to the full-format sensor.
  2. Get your white balance (= color temperature) right! Even if you’re going to remove the color, the success of any conversion relies on successfully translating colors into attractive grayscale tones; working with color channels. Therefore, it’s vital your photo is without any color casts.
  3. Set your camera to RAW & JPG recording.

    RAW: This is the main format you are capturing the original digital negatives in. You’re recording the full image data that the sensor captures, just the data.
    JPG: Simultaneously record JPGs as monochrome images. Open your camera’s menu and change the recording settings to “monochrome”. This adjustment will only affect the JPGs. The great thing is that with this setting will get immediate reasonably useful variants of Black & White feedback on your camera screen.

5 - Camera Settings Nikon, Canon, Sony - B&W Photography Digital
The beauty of this solution: When you look at the photo on the back of the camera, it shows you a Black & White image. But the RAW format you are capturing simultaneously is still in color with all its facets for a high-quality, influenceable B&W conversion.

The challenge on how the different colors in the scene will look in grayscale is minimized. Since you’re getting instant feedback, you can make decisions while shooting, based on whether those tones, contrasts and forms are working for you.

“Sexy Romantic” Light Setting

Lighting Set Plan - Sexy Romantic Look - B&W Photography - B&W Photography Digital
To fit the desired mood the overall lighting design needs to be soft, even and with large areas of bright space. When I shoot Hanna towards the window, I get a strong, nice ambient light from behind, softly wrapping around her – simply beautiful. This light volume helps me in an amazing way with my subsequent work in post, when applying a halation effect by means of infrared film emulation. All becomes smooth and dreamy.

The key strobe light (softbox) coming from left provides the actual light to illuminate the full scene. The balance with the window’s ambient fill has to be very precise in order to avoid a flash light character in the scene. The ambient’s light share in this scene is about 40%.

Shadow Characteristics

7 - Shadow Chart - B&W Photography Digital
Due to the overall soft lighting and the large share of very diffused ambient window lighting the shadow transitions are very long (= appear smooth), the light design conveys a feeling as if the shoot was done with natural light only.
Harder light quality (= stronger shadows) would destroy the idea of a calm, sensitive and thoughtful afternoon story.

B&W Conversion: Influence The Looks

8 - Conversion Process - Intro Image - B&W Photography Digital
This look – as mentioned – is planned to leave a romantic impression. The set, styling, lighting and storytelling were created for this purpose. Now it is all about fixing this atmosphere and feel in this last part – the conversion.

I choose a film emulation called Kodak HIE – it’s an old B&W infrared film. Infrared? Yup! I want the scene to appear a bit glowy, in particular Hanna’s skin. Bight areas (in this case the skin) glow because the film has no anti-halation backing.

Good To Know: Halation & Skin Tones

The word Halation comes from the word Halo and is defined as “a blurred effect around the edges of highlight areas in a photographic image”, meaning Halation refers to the spreading of light around bright areas in an image.

Former B&W infrared negative films were sensitive to wavelengths in the 700 to 900 nm (= green to red) near infrared spectrum, and most also had a sensitivity to blue light wavelengths. The notable halation effect (= glow) is often seen in the highlights when using a Kodak High Speed Infrared (HIE) B&W negative film. The glow/blooming is caused by the absence of an anti-halation layer on the back side of Kodak HIE film, which results in a scattering or blooming around the highlights that would usually be absorbed by the anti-halation layer in conventional films.
Because skin tones are located in the yellow to red spectrum the glow appears mostly in these areas.

Although this may sound bizarre, Black & White photography in today’s digital world is not about the tones of White, Gray and Black that we see in the final B&W images. It is rather all about the conversion to varying Shades of Gray, based on the Colors that are captured by your digital camera.

Free RAW (DNG), Preset & Action

For this tutorial, I have chosen a Kodak HIE simulation that comes free of charge. You can either get it as an Action for your Photoshop or as a Preset for Lightroom. Please follow the respective installation and setting tips that can be found in the download files.

I also attach here the same original photo as a DNG file so you can work under the same conditions. Please note that this file is for your personal use only and can not be published anywhere – it’s Dan Hostettler Photography copyrighted work. Please play fair, thank you.

Download Image DNG (Hanna in Romantic)

Note: You need to save the file to your HDD (= download). Don’t let your browser open the file. Instead “Mouse Right Click” + “Save as…”. After saving you can open the DNG in Photoshop or Lightroom. If you download the ZIP version you need to unpack the file first.

Download Kodak HIE Emulation
Photoshop: Working With The Action

Photoshop B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE Inf - B&W Photography Digital
9 - 2 - Photoshop B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE Inf - B&W Photography Digital9 - 3 - Photoshop B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE Inf - B&W Photography Digital

  1. Preparation:
    a. Install the action according to the downloaded Readme file.
    b. Open a color photo you would like to convert.
  2. In your Actions panel (Window > Actions), select the Kodak HIE action and then click the play button.
  3. The effects will appear as Layer Masks on top of your original image. You now have a first result showing the standard settings rendered by the action. This is not very impressive yet and the look appears dull.
  4. Fine tuning 1: Double-click the layer Kodak HIE Tone and start altering the color channels.
    I’m pushing Reds & Yellows in order to achieve brighter skin tones. But I also work with Cyans, Blues & Magentas to brighten up the background (window, wall and chair’s back).
    The influenced gray tones look better this way yet the overall image is still rather hard for my taste.
  5. Fine tuning 2: Double-click the layer Kodak HIE Contrast and start working on the dark and bright areas.
    I brighten-up the very dark, black areas in order to regain visual structure but also force the already bright parts further towards being very clear. Now this is a matter of taste and it’s your decision on how far you want to go with this. It’s my personal style of lighting, so I am very pleased with this adjustment.

9 - 4 - Photoshop HIE - FINAL RESULT - After Contrast Curve Altering - B&W Photography Digital

Lightroom: Working With The Preset

10 - 1 - Lightroom B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE In - B&W Photography Digital10 - 2 - Lightroom B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE In - B&W Photography Digital
10 - 3 - Lightroom B&W Conversion Steps - Sexy Romantic Look - with Kodak HIE In - B&W Photography Digital

  1. Preparation:
    a. Install the preset in the application’s presets folder.
    b. Import your photo(s) and then switch to the Develop module and start conversion work there.
  2. Choose the preset Kodak HIE in the left hand bar’s Presets tab. The image gets converted to B&W based on an internal automatic algorithm.
  3. Start to manually alter the different color channels according to your taste and the look’s feel.
    Once again, I push the Red, Orange & Yellow here but also Purple & Magenta in order to slightly brighten up the background and the chair’s dark color.
  4. Now it’s time for the last fine tuning: I change back to the Basic tab (right hand bar), lighten up the Shadows increase the Clarity to sharpen the structure/texture a tiny bit.
  5. Once you are happy with the result, you can save the altered outcome as a new Preset, assigning a new name. This way you have your own emulation for the future.

Get Creative Now. My Best Wishes!

That’s it for now 🙂 I hope you got a first impression for your thoughts and ideas as well as an invigorating spring to get your inspiration going with B&W photography.

I wish you all the best for experimenting, growing and sparking attention with this timeless, strong and impactful genre. Expand your mind, open your eyes and spirit, let it flow and feel the emotions and expressions 🙂

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Mastering B&W Nudes Today - Complete Digital Workflow

MASTERING B&W NUDES TODAY – Complete Digital Workflow

B&W Blueprint. Shoot Color. Showcase B&W. Essentials, full planning-/shooting process, camera settings & hacks. Most comprehensive conversion processes & strategies for Photoshop, Lightroom, Plugins etc. 4 extensive case studies. 260 pages strong! + 6 videos.

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