A few months ago I wrote an article for Senior Style Guide Magazine and I get asked these questions regarding black and white photos quite a bit; so I thought I’d post the article here for you guys 🙂

Faye ::: Renee Bowen Seniors


I adore black and white photos…there’s just something about the absence of color to get at true, raw emotion.  When I first started shooting Senior Portraits, I fell into the habit of utilizing this artistic tool a little too much. I was all over the place in my editing and proofing! It wasn’t until the following year, after seeing first hand how my clients reacted in person to those black and white images, that I realized that I could use them to my advantage.  These days, I only process two – five images per session in black and white – and they always sell.

Obviously, you can convert any image into black and white – it’s digital photography; however, if you only pick a couple of them and present them with intention and an air of “exclusion”, your client will feel more compelled to have them because they are perceived rare.  If you don’t over-do it with the black and white images and choose the “right” images to present, they will appear more special and emotional, thus giving them more value.  Seems simple, right?  It goes back to the psychology of marketing – people will purchase items that they feel are special and are emotionally attached to.  Also? This is their “baby” who is about to leave the nest….black and white images have a way of stripping away their “teenager-ness” and exposing their younger selves.  (I knew this B.A. in Psychology would come in handy one day!)

photo by Renee Bowen ~ feel free to tag yourselves http://www.reneebowen.com

Let’s backtrack for a moment and discuss how I treat my black and white images. I shoot RAW and in color, and process only those images that exude feeling into black and white.  What does this mean exactly?  As I cull my images (and I cull very quickly), I mark the ones that jump out at me.  Sometimes it’s two…sometimes it’s ten initially.  I offer four different Senior Portrait Session packages and they all include a different number of final images to choose from.  My lowest priced package contains 25 images to choose from and my highest priced includes 60.  Typically, I’ll only convert two images for the basic session and only up to five for the top session.   Processing black and white images is an art in itself.   As an artist, you need to find your own “perfect formula” that speaks to you when editing…. this can take some time, especially since there are a myriad of editing options for us these days.  I use Adobe Lightroom for 90% of my editing and Photoshop for the rest; so yes, I use presets.  I adore – and I don’t mean that lightly – VSCO (Visual Supply Company) Film Presets.  I shot film for years and as you know, it’s incredibly difficult to imitate the feel and tone of film in digital photography.  I’ve tried an array of plug-ins and presets, and even created my own, but ultimately, I never found a “perfect” recipe.  Until I discovered VSCO.  Of course, I also add my own personal touches to the final product, so it reflects my brand.

Kira LRWM-37

Another reason I don’t convert too many photos into black and white is because it overwhelms the client; this is why I like to limit my “final images” that I show the client in the first place.  I personally think 60 images is too many to choose from, but the clients who purchase that session usually get all the images in an album anyway.  The point with that session is to create “groupings” of images that look great together on a wall or in an album spread.  When I’m editing, I also create a sample album page or storyboard with images that I know showcase well, and present that to the client.  If they can see it, they can buy it.

Things to keep in mind when selling black and white images to your clients:

  • Remember who is buying the photo:  Your senior client probably loves the model pose, but her mother loves it when she smiles.  Get both and you’ll sell both.
  • Outtakes sell:  everyone loves real emotion…especially real laughs.  I always have my camera up to my eye during the session. I talk to my seniors with the camera on my face….because when I ask them to do something silly or accidentally almost fall off my step stool (which happens a lot), I’m catching their expression.   Outtakes are GREAT in an album – parents love them.
  • Create a storyboard or collage or design the first two spreads of an album with your favorite black and whites.  When people view them as a collection, they are more inclined to buy them.
  • Including black and white images into your proofing is a great opportunity to boost your sales if you approach it with intention.  I also wait to show the black and white images until the very end of the proofing session – almost as an afterthought.
  • This goes without saying, but get good photos…. shoot often and a lot and hone your editing skills.  Treat your images as art and your clients will too.

 Brooke :: Renee Bowen Photography 2012


Interested in learning more about my editing/shooting?  I offer skype and in person mentorships!

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