Any tips for photographing Black or darker skin properly

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by teresa_earnest, May 26, 2004.

  1. I would appreciate any tips on proper exposure of Black skin. I
    haven't photographed many Black People, and seem to end up with
    really dark skin results, or a shine on the face. How do you
    properly meter if your photographing a Bride?

    Thanks in advance,
  2. Let me start out with stating that I'm white but spent nearly 12 years of my life with a lovely brown skinned Jamaican woman. I still carry pix of my two step sons in my wallet. I've photographed a lot of blacks over the years.

    The shine is because people of African descent usually have oilier skin, and the reflection from the sheen on a white person's face isn't all that much brighter than the underlying skin tone so you don't get the contrast. With women this usually isn't so much of a problem because they tend to use make-up, and the base and the powder kills the sheen. In general, the darker the skin the more noticeable the problem. You might discuss with the bride and groom the possibility that the ladies in the wedding party might help apply a bit of suitably toned powder to the mens' faces as well. This will go a long way towards solving that problem. Have a box of tissues handy during the posed shots in case anybody needs to wipe their forehead.

    The next problem is that in order to preserve detail in the white wedding gown (lace, embroidery, etc.)we tend to pick an exposure that will make the darkest parts of the photo come out too dark. The automatic exposure chosen by your camera and/or auto flash might be doing this for you. Because this is not a new problem people are used to seeing wedding pictures like this. Choose a low contrast professional portrait type of color film. This will give you the longest range of tones. Films like Kodak Gold, designed for amateur use, have a lot of contrast and a tendancy to block up the highlight areas (the gown).

    It is important to give enough exposure that the faces (and tuxedos) aren't at the extremes of the film's ability to record detail. The best way to do this is to use your camera on manual. Otherwise one photo might have the flash sensor reading mostly black tuxedos, the next mostly white and pastel gowns. Usually the film's latitude will handle this, but dark faces are where the problem lies. If there's not enough image on the film you can't put it there later. With too much exposure you can still print through it. Modern color negative films can easily stand some over exposure, and in fact have slightly finer grain when so exposed.

    I'd suggest that you should shoot a few rolls and experiment a bit if you can find somebody. This should be no problem if you ask a black friend or coworker to pose in exchange for some free prints. Try setting your meter, camera, and flash for ISO 100 for ISO 160 film, ISO 250 for ISO 400 film. Also try bracketing one stop over and one stop under. See what works best for you with your equipment.
  3. Thanks for your response! I am shooting digital with a 10D (rebel for back-up), so I will certainly digest everything, and try it out on my camera.

    Thanks again!
  4. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    I think lower contrast is the key. The attached image is a digital original too, shot with a Nikon D100 with fill flash. Shoot RAW and there are a lot of adjustments you can do in PhotoShop to optimize things.
  5. There's an interesting article in the May issue of Shutterbug on this subject.
  6. In addition to the excellent advice above, try to avoid placing dark-skinned subjects in front of dark or black backgrounds, although really bright backgrounds are to be avoided too. The first because of the natural merging of subject into background, and the latter because of the extreme contrast. At events such as weddings, one can't always control backgrounds, but when possible, having the natural separation will help. If you use off-camera flashes or lighting, in the situations where you can control things, put the darker-skinned subject closer to the light--for instance, a white bride and a black groom or vice versa.
  7. If you use PSCS, try the shadow/highlight tool in 'post' as this will help recover some of the detail in the darker areas. Also, the advice from Nadine is good advice (and others).

    I have had several a few dark skinned subjects and medium toned backgrounds are a great help. The other major thing to remember is to give plenty of light (read; multiple angles if poss.) to the shots.
  8. Teresa, Make sure your 10D is set on multi-segment (matrix) evaluative metering, and that
    you are shooting in RAW mode. If using flash, use a diffuser to cut down on the sheen.

    If you are shooting normal scenes, the automatic metering will balance out the tonal range
    and average it all out. The 10D is particularly good at doing this.

    In other words, don't do anything just because there is dark skinned person in the mix. At
    least not with digital capture. Darks are much easier to lift if there is an underexposure,
    than restoring blown whites (like in a wedding dress).

    If the problem you described persists, check what contrast level your 10D is set to and
    adjust it to less contrast (see your manual on how to do that). Also, learn to read the
    histogram on your LCD, or at least set the highlight warning function in the set-up menu.
    It'll flash any blown highlights so you can adjust the compensation on the camera.
  9. Example:
  10. Marc, since I don't shoot digital, I'm curious--how would you expose digital when faced with a very light-skinned bride or groom paired with a very dark skinned partner in direct sunlight? On top of that, the bride usually has a white gown on, and sometimes the groom has a white tux. I've even had such couples request to be photographed in direct sunlight in front of bright backgrounds, like bright sun glinting off the water in a harbor. Film, even low contrast Portra NC, has a hard time wrapping itself around such contrasts, so I would imagine digital would be even worse. Could a RAW file that didn't have blown out whites still have enough information in the dark skin part of the image to "develop" in Photoshop? And would you have to "custom-fix" each and every frame?
  11. You have asked a good question. There are variances in skin darkness/lightness in us.
    Clothing darkness/lightness also effects exposure. What is my answer?

    I would use bounce light to the ceiling to illuminate anyone. I would use a white card
    attached to my flash to bounce alittle light forward to fill in the subject as the flash is
    pointed at the white ceiling. As a result, I will have soft light. And soft light is best for
    any darkness of skin or any lightness of skin. By using this method, you in effect have 2,
    count them 2, real sources of light: your ceiling and the white card attached to your flash.

    The other way to meet this problem is to use a 2 headed flash system on a camera
    bracket. This may be too, too much for you at this time. However, you could have an
    assistant hold a 2nd flash unit connected to a slave trigger unit. Both flashes would be
    pointed at the subject.

    You probably have noticed that darker skin with a one flash system results in the sides of
    the face losing detail: there are no ears, for example. The middle of the face has this
    white spot in the center, too. Well, when you use bounced light from the ceiling, this

    Oily skin always has the potential to create those white spots on the skin, especially the
    forehead. And people at weddings and events are moving around, dancing and doing
    things to make themselves alittle oily: they perspire. This is natural.

    Now, once you are using bounced light, you can use a flash meter to find out the proper
    exposure using an incident flash meter. O.K., you don't have one... Well, the next thing
    you can do is to use a "standard exposure" for the power of your unit. But before I could
    give you this, I need to know what Guide Number your flash uses.

    Simply pointing your flash at the face of the person will give you varying results. So will
    pointing your flash at the wedding dress. Neither of these methods will give you
    constancy. Sorry, even if you have auto mode, it is not my adviseable method to attain
    reasonable perfection in exposure.

    So, you may realize that using a 2nd flash unit which a friend holds standing next to you is
    reasonable. And if you can do that, you will have good results. But you will have to adapt
    to the additional complication of using a 2nd flash unit with a slave trigger.

    In conclusion, a single flash unit on dark skin, especially if the person is just a tiny bit
    perspiring will result in a bright spot on their forehead, cheeks and a loss of detail on t he
    sides of their head. Even if you attain a perfect exposure, you have imperfect lighting on
    the person. Improve it by making the modifications above, and then take an exposure

    A photographer took my advice and simply used 2 flashes to do a group picture. To see
    this group shot at the altar look at this. All it is is just 2 inexpensive flash units. Notice
    how 3 dimensional it looks even though very inexpensive equipment was used.
  12. Keep in mind that if you make an "adjustment" for the darkness of the skin, you also are
    changing the color of the dress! You cannot separate this effect. So, rather than to think
    that skin and dress color are somehow able to be separated at the time of exposure, you
    will change the quality of the light and then meter with an incident meter. Again, that is:
    Change the quality of light; make the light softer, less contrasty, then meter with an
    incident meter.

    Åvoid using reflective meters unless you are a long time pro and have thousands of
    exposures "under your belt" metering with a reflective meter at weddings. Use an incident
    meter only; this is the meter with the white dome on it.
  13. What I've done in this situation is to use my camera's spot meter. I check for the difference between the bride's face and dress, and the groom's tux. If things don't fall within the film's latitude, I choose the closest exposure to the bride's face that will leave some detail in the bride's dress. Like it was said previously, shine on the faces of women isn't as much of a problem because of make-up, but it can be with men. It is a good idea to have them use a handkerchief or tissue to wipe any excess oil off. When you have a variance of skin tones, always err on the side of the bride from what I've seen and been told.
  15. Nadine, Once you work with digital for awhile it becomes apparent that the "bells and whistles" often disparaged by analog purest are actually quite useful. Like when facing the extremes you have outlined above. RAW files contain the maximum information that the camera settings will allow at the time of exposure. The most important part of that capture exposure is making sure the whites have tone in them because that cannot be restored. Even Prosumer DSLRs like the D10 have a "highlight warning" feature that flashes any overexposed whites. If you are shooting a scene dominated by whites, you expose for the middle tones just like with film, but keep an eye out for any flashing "blown" highlights on the LCD monitor. If they do, you set the compensation controls to underexpose a bit, then continue shooting with confidence. With digital, if you have tone in the whites, you have the shot. That is because darks can be lifted an amazing amount when working in a RAW developer like Adobe PhotoShop CS. It is a very common misconception that digital capture has a poor latitude range. If you shoot in the ISO 100 to 400 range that we wedding shooters tend to use most, AND capture tone in the whites, you have the equivalent of up to ISO 1250 in the darks to work with in that same shot (ISO 3200 with the new Canon 1D MKII ). I have also noticed that the newest version of Adobe's RAW developer AND Canon's new DPP RAW developer have vastly reduced the noise in the darks when you lift the shadows to an extreme. As far as custom "fixing" every frame... usually you shoot sets of images in the same conditions and can apply one fix to any number of other shots in a matter of seconds. In the RAW developer stage of processing, using Canon's new Digital Photo Professional program for example, you open a file, make corrections, save that "recipe" to the clip board with one click of the mouse, and then select any amount of other images in the browser window and click a second button titled "Apply Recipe to All Selected" and all of them are instantly corrected... and I mean instantly. I just did that to 80 images and it took less than 5 minutes all totaled. Here's one similar to the conditions you outlined: Dark skinned subject wearing all white with two other subjects wearing black Tuxes, all in direct harsh Miami sunlight just about directly overhead, and glistening water in the background. I made sure there was tone in the white shirt and shot away.
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    This is off topic. I wonder why the image I accompanied my reply earlier (3rd reply from the top) is treated as an attachment although I shrunk it to a very small 366x450 pixels and 28K bytes in size while the much larger images from Marc are shown in line. I thought anything smaller than 511 pixels in its longer dimension would be shown in line.
  17. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I wonder why the image I accompanied my reply earlier (3rd reply from the top) is treated as an attachment
    You need to put a caption in the box or it will appear as an attachment regardless of sizing.
  18. Thanks for answering, Marc. So in terms of stops, are you saying you've got about 3 1/2 stops of underexposure that can be "lifted" in the processing? When shot in RAW, what is the latitude? Also, while the shots look great on-screen, do they have as much detail when actually printed (not inkjet but regular photographic prints)? And do you shoot every frame in RAW--how many gigs do you have to carry in memory? Sorry to ask so many questions.
  19. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Unless you shoot news images and need very quick turn around, RAW is deinitely the way to go. I see no point to, when you press the shutter release, permanently throw away data that can be really useful later on. On my 6MP Nikon D100, each RAW file is about 9.8M, and I can get 102 or 103 images on a 1G card. Newer DSRLs have compressed RAW (well, so does the D100, but its compression takes forever so that it is useless) that is quick, and you can roughly double the number of frames per card. Say if you shoot 500 frames per wedding, we are talking about 3 to 5G worth of memory cards. Now if you use the Canon 1Ds, the files are bigger.

    I printed the above attachment that is not shown in line as an InkJet 8.5x11 and it looks superb. BTW, thanks to Jeff for the prompt answer.
  20. Nadine, the best way to answer is show an example of an actual problem shot. The attached shot was one where I hadn't corrected the camera settings from shooting outside under the tent then went indoors... AND the flash didn't fire. Top one shows the RAW file exactly the way it came out of the camera. The bottom one after basic adjustments in the RAW developer, and then hitting Auto Levels in PhotoShop. While I didn't use this shot, It would make a fine 8X10. IMO, detail in digital shots are just as good as with film in practical applications ... given all other variables are the same (lens, shutter speed, ISO, etc.)
  21. Again, thanks for answering, and also Shun. Sorry about the questions--just one last one. Is the "lifted" information just as good as if you exposed for it, or is it compromised in some way, like with more noise than normal?
  22. Yes, there is often more noise with a lift that severe. Mostly in the darks. Noise control
    applications usually minimize it.

    The RAW developers are improving on that issue every time a new one comes out.
  23. Long time ago this thread, thanks to Google. ;-)
    Notice that the difference between analog & digital is the way they handle under- and overexposure. Analog is better in keeping detail in overexposed regions, digital is better (than analog even) in detail in underexposed regions.
    Having somebody over tomorrow who has black skin, so I'll see how I fare.

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