Color Choices for Portraits
Some of the most familiar portraits in the world have been shot with black-and-white film, and black-and-white continues to be a popular choice for classic portraits even in the digital age. However, there's no universal reason to select black-and-white over color or vice versa. For the most part, color choice depends more on what your subjects prefer, what will make them look their best, and what feelings or emotions you want the picture to convey.
A good rule of thumb for relative subject size is to get close enough to the group that if you added two people at each end, you would have to back up the camera or zoom out.
Slide film will give you beautifully saturated colors, but people with ruddy complexions will look even redder if you use it. The same slide film, however, will do a wonderful job of bringing out the subtleties in the delicate coloring of children's faces.
Digital color shooting will allow you to adjust saturation selectively, avoiding oversaturating areas that don't need it, like overly ruddy complexions.
There are important issues to take into consideration when shooting color portraits. Color print film, which will also enable quick and inexpensive printing, is a good choice for most outdoor color portraits. People with poor complexions may prefer a film that will disguise imperfections. Fast film — ISO 400 and faster — has larger grains that can help hide skin problems. Pictures taken with fast film or with a fast ISO setting on a digital camera will be more about mood and drama, regardless of the setting or the subject.
The long tradition of fine art black-and-white portraiture is carried on through both the use of fine-grain film and its digital counterpart. Use the finest setting that lighting conditions will allow — usually ISO 50 to ISO 100. If you're using a good lens and a tripod, and if you focus very carefully, every detail and imperfection will be obvious in the final print — prepare your subject for a very truthful portrait. If you need to hide some skin imperfections, use a higher ISO for its grainier effect.
Black-and-white allows you to work with light sources (like fluorescent and tungsten) that in color would produce bad skin tones. If your plan is to try some indoor portraits using incandescent lighting, definitely use a fast (ISO 400) black-and-white film, or in the case of digital, a fast ISO setting. Some cameras have settings which can compensate for fluorescent lighting — check to see before you start shooting. Outdoors, you can use slow settings (ISO 100) if you have a tripod, but use a high-speed setting (ISO 400) for handheld portraits.