I recently came across the work of English based photographer Sam Barton. What immediately compelled me to his work was his specific direction with his black and white portraits. With most of social media these days primarily showcasing color work, it was great to see someone who had captivating monochrome photographs! Granted, he does everything well too. I am kind of jealous!
He surprised me when he told me uses Infinite Black and White in his process!
Sam used to shoot professionally but now he uses it, as he says, “to complete my week”. He integrates photography in his life to balance his day job and you can tell his passion comes through with his work!
Sam provides an inside look at his photographic process, from the initial portrait shoot all the way through to the editing techniques he uses to achieve his signature black and white aesthetic. With his career starting from the film days, Sam shares how he uses advanced software like Infinite Color Suite alongside tried and true darkroom techniques to refine his portraits. For any aspiring or professional photographer, Sam really showcases a balance with his creativity with technical mastery.
Connect with Sam:
1. What do you love most about taking portraits and why did you choose to keep it as a hobby rather than continuing to work as a photographer?
Photography used to be a day job, I used to work in a mix of advertising, fashion and editorial photography but always with interesting people. Once you get past the technical process of taking a portrait, I realised what I enjoyed the most was interacting with new people and getting the best out of them. That very human connection of gaining someone’s trust and understanding them to then be able to capture them for who they are.
So why is it a hobby? Well today I am Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a large financial services firm. This seems a million miles away from photography, but it was a very organic process getting there. I’ve always edited photos in my own darkroom but when Adobe released Photoshop I quickly adopted it and loved how you could really finesse the image in post. That led to making the image available online (we had to write our own HTML and CSS then) and from there learning more complex programming to develop engaging and interactive websites.
To complete the loop, I approach my job today in exactly the same way I take a portrait. I like to understand people, gain their trust and help them be the best they can be. Team building is an important part of software engineering and I believe is vital in taking photos. It’s always amazing to witness someone who feels empowered.
(Model: Elle Baldwinson)
2. Are you usually shooting for the end result to be in black and white, or do you make that decision after the shoot is done? Tell us about this process.
Ha! I like this question as no one has asked me this before. Truth is, I want all my shots to be in black and white as for me, photography was founded in the darkroom, processing my rolls of Tri-x (B&W film, mostly 120mm) and then printing the image on a silk, cotton paper. I always work to a mood board and I like the styling to use contrasting tones and often black and white outfits. Both my parents worked in the industry and our house was filled with powerful black and white photos. As a result I am influenced by the likes of Herb Ritz, Patrick Demarchelier and Peter Lindburg all of whom defined the 90’s with their strong black and white fashion images.
So yes, I often go into the shoot planning for a black and white image but I am also very conscious of when to use color and today where you can shoot in RAW and not commit yourself to color or black and white when selecting a roll of film it’s nice to have the option in post.
(Model: Jenn Jones)
3. You surprised me when you said you used Infinite Black and White as a part of the process! How would you explain what it does in helping you get to the final vision and what is that workflow like?
I shoot a mixture of studio and location photography and find this really changes how I edit. I have a small purpose built studio that is perfectly sized for full length fashion or portraiture. I tether to Capture One and also mirror the images to a large iPad so the model can see the photos as they come through. I then do my RAW processing in Capture One before moving to Photoshop for the final edit. I don’t like heavily edited photos so the edit is mostly about skin or hair as well as a bit of traditional dodge and burn (just like I would do in the darkroom). I do all my color correction at the end and this is where Infinite Color Suite comes in. I start with my flattened image and go through the color options first. I tend to cycle through a mixture of results, saving favourites in a separate folder and name them; ‘warm’, ‘cool’, ‘pinkish’ etc until I have a mix I can review. When I settle on the color option I like the most I then go into the individual layers and tweak the values, mostly focusing on color balance.
Once done I then hide the color options and go back to the original image to work on the black and white version. Here I am more selective, I stick to one folder and tend to start with the intensity at about 75% to then cycle through the options. I find that I often settle on a result that has the best separation of subject and background and then go into the layers and finesse the facial features using the black and white adjustments, specifically the red and yellow filters which bring out the contrast in the skin. I also bring in the curves a little and then add a brightness/contrast layer to give the image a final pop.
The editing process for my location shots is near identical, except natural light can give very different results for the color grading, so I find you have to go into the edit with more of a plan for the colors you want to bring out.
Finally, one of my favourite things about Infinite Color Suite is copying the folders of finished looks to another PSD file. I tend to shoot for a theme where a set of three or four similar images tell a story. I follow the same basic edit for each new photo, but then copy and paste the color grading folders from my first edit and speed up the process whilst maintaining a very consistent look. Magic!
4. Besides portraits, what else do you enjoy capturing?
After I finished school I went straight into photography and was soon working in fashion and editorial. I was really fortunate to work with some incredible people both technically but also creatively. I loved the highly styled fashion images and also the more caught in the moment editorial images, all designed to showcase an outfit or look. My mum used to be a model so I think this sort of photography has always been in my DNA and I know it is where I am happiest.
I also love to travel and have to do this with a camera. I’m a rubbish tourist, I cannot take a picture of a famous monument alone, I have to have someone in frame to complete the image. I recently completed a five week sabbatical from work where I travelled to France, Italy, Malta and the US and met up with some really fantastic people along the way taking portraits as well as photos with a fashion and editorial theme to them. Stunning locations and wonderful people looking awesome, that’s my idea of a great time.
(Model: Anais Benmessaoud)
5. Is there anything you prefer in color over black and white and what inspires those conditions?
I have a mixture of seamless and canvas backgrounds in my studio and enjoy creating a color pallet where the outfit complements the background. Again, this tends to be influenced by an editorial theme, something I have seen in a magazine or a very styled advert. Many years ago we’d work on magazine spreads called advertorials, an advert that had an editorial theme to it so the reader thought it was just another page in the magazine. These tended to be for something like designer clothes, perfume or jewellery and had backgrounds that complimented the subject but also drew the eye to the area of focus. That is very much a past life now, but I still enjoy recreating those looks especially with someone who connects with the same idea. This is where I enjoy using the color grading features of Infinite Color Suite the most, I really like being able to fine tune a blue or red theme that brings to life the background and styling chosen for the image.
(Model: Kate Snig)
6. What do you have a harder time with, picking a color grade or finding an appropriate black and white conversion to match your vision?
It’s definitely the color option here, for a couple of reasons. The obvious point with color is there is more variety. I like the process of systematically going through the options, thinking I have found the perfect match and then trying it again and being surprised to find a better one. I’ll always have a palette in mind, but honing in on the final blend takes a number of goes and then some finessing with the various layers. The opposite is true for me when it comes to black and white, I am always clear on what I want so it's more a process of deduction to get there.
In truth, I don’t find the process ‘hard’, it's all enjoyable and it’s no different to my days in the darkroom. I find editing to be very cathartic and enjoy it as much as taking the photos. In summary, I’d choose editing over Netflix any day and I enjoy mixing software with creativity to get the end result just right.
Here's more of Sam's amazing work!
(Model: Elle Baldwinson)
(Model: Elle Baldwinson)
(Model: Marisa Roper)
(Model: Marisa Roper)
(Model: Clara Rene)