top of page
  • Writer's pictureCara Hodge

2024! Throwback...Black & white emotive family & child portraits

Updated: Apr 2


You will include black & white? I get this question a lot, A LOT!

The answer is always: Yes, of course!

Black & white is a huge part of my photography, particularly my child & family portraits. I try and feature black & white pictures on every page of my website as part of my signature look - classic black & white & vintage color tones (the vintage color is a fairly new direction I've been taking and I love it).

I have even developed a color palette of black, white, greys across my website to show off the black & white aesthetic as much as I can.

Black & white child portrait.

I love environmental child portraits as they are at the cross over of portraiture & documentary family photography. The environmental child portrait is where the environment or surroundings say something about the mood of the child. Or where the child has a strong expression or emotion that relates also to their immediate surroundings.

Of course many of my family photo shoots feature happy, smiling kids - after all, what parent doesn't want to see their children happy? On the other hand, a genuine expression aside from joy can be very emotive.

In black & white, the expression is often at the heart of the picture as there are no other detracting aspects, aside from light & composition. Below, my eye goes directly to her hands fixing the flower, and her smudged mascara. I am not detracted by the color of her jumper (which is red), and the green bushes behind.

young girl with running mascara adjusting flower in her hair

From sad expressions (above with make up tracking tears), to pure joy (below). Without the distraction of color, I can focus directly on the flower held to her face and the cute little smile!

little girl laughing in upturned plant pot as big sister hands her flowers.

Below, I love how the black & white also brings out the simplicity of this baby's white christening clothes. I can focus on his white outfit, and the catch lights in his eyes, rather than the pram he is sitting in!

baby in pram as an adult hand reaches out to hold his arm gently
Catch lights

Lighting that's best for black & white photography

A good black & white portrait tends to come to life in dramatic lighting. Often best in low light conditions where there is strong contrast between light & shade.

Often, just a slither of window light is all that's needed to illuminate part of a face. This can give a painterly feel to a child, family or newborn portrait. Often just the features of a face are illuminated as the rest of the person falls into shadow or less light. The less strong the window light, the more shadow is present. Below, the window light was enough to light up mums face as dad's, behind her, is more in shadow. ( black & white family photography at home)

mum and dad holding newborn baby in window light of nursery
Window light Baby

Where window light is absent, even an artificial light source can be enough to cast light. Babies face below has a lovely rim light that emphasizes his features.

dad holding newborn baby boy in mirror that is surrounded by lighting
Mirror light & newborn

Often, if the session took place in the afternoon or in broad daylight (when the sun was high in the sky) there may be less contrast. In this case, color may be the first choice. However, if there was shade from trees, and more shadow, black & white can work well. For instance, below, this communion in a forest park, under the shade of trees.

dad twirling his daughter in communion dress under the shade of trees
Communion Under Trees

This communion portrait (above) happened on one of THE HOTTEST DAYS near Dublin, and I was so thankful to find shade under the trees - it was midday! Thankfully, with enough shade I could put this picture into black & white. The white Communion dress stands out beautifully.

Also, under the shade of trees, this maternity portrait of this pregnant lady holding a puppy works really well. Expressions stand out so well in b & w.

pregnant woman in long dress and braided hair in park holding her dog

Black & white can also work very well for documentary family sessions. This allows the viewer of the picture to concentrate on the action in the photo. B & w again works very well in the low lighting conditions of a church. For example, I use a lot of b & w for my christenings and baptisms.

mum and dad holding baby boy ready to be christened inside church surrounded by family members
Chrustening in B & W

For this. recent surprise proposal/engagement party, that I have yet to blog, the entrance to the pub created a dramatic frame to this couple kissing in the doorway.

couple kissing passionately in doorway to pub

The black & white edit - step by step.

After a lifestyle or family photo shoot, I carefully create a folder on my desk top of all the best pictures from our time together. I look for all the "stand out" moments. From there, I will decide whether a picture will work best as color or black & white, depending on the lighting conditions. Often favorite pictures can be converted to both color and b & w.

I use Camera Raw to make initial edits to my pictures. I shoot in RAW format so that I can preserve all shadows & highlights and make any adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw. After that, I import into Photo shoot and make any further enhancements. I love to use Replichrome film presets & actions for Photoshop & light Room. I make enhancements to contrast, exposure, highlights, shadows, temperature - but my motto: Less is more...

Back to old post.

These pictures span summer holidays right the way through to recent winter faves - taken at the window of my home here in Blackrock, Dublin.

The light in winter is often very beautiful. On a clear day with a blue sky, the light remains golden throughout the morning and afternoon. You can see more recent window light portraits here too.

It's easier to take photographs any time of the day in the winter as the harsh midday light is less harsh and unforgiving.

For family sessions in Dublin, winter light can be very flattering too.

An earlier golden hour during the winter means plenty of golden light without having to do the family photo shoot much later in the evening! That means I can schedule a family photo shoot in the afternoon, particularly in the run up to the Christmas season & New Year.

Low light is one of my favorite lighting conditions. The window light in my home in Blackrock, Dublin, offers deep shadows and plenty of options for working with high contrast blacks & whites.

Black & white emotive child & family portraits Dublin. Contact me to set up a family photography session for children, babies & newborns. At home or somewhere special outdoors.

Have a great week, Cara

boy in a wheelbarrow, gentle expression, award winning family photography

brother and sister hugging under an apple tree, award winning family portrait

boy with a wet face after shower, ward winning child portrait

boy holding a wine glass covered in tattoos around a table set outdoors with family

boy wrapped in fake fur coat. 2nd place child photo competition, best of black & white international child photography. featured in bored pands and The Times, UK
Winter Warm

boy sitting and holding a lily between skull and flowers

boy lying by window light in blackrock, Dublin. award winning child portrait

boy with drawn on mustache


48 views0 comments


bottom of page