Metering for darker skin

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by robert_wagner|1, Mar 18, 2004.

  1. I am a nonprofessional and will be taking some informal shots at a
    wedding. I have little experience with darker skin tones. I shoot
    6x6 manual with a handheld meter and some 35mm with auto metering.
    Do I need to make any adjustments when metering for closeup shots,
    or for automatic settings on a metz 45 flash?
  2. You will have a white dress (a guess) and a dark bride (another guess)

    --- you will have to shoot two shots (the old bracket method) of each [and every] pose and let the printer have a go at printing the images. One will be good detail on the dress, and one will have good exposure on the face(s.)

    There is not a simple, nonprofessional way for better results.
  3. I make sure I use light backgrounds and two flashes. The first time I ran into this situation I had a african american bride and her husband was even darker and one of her bridesmaids was a pale irish girl. I made the mistake of shooting them with green woods in the background. Fortunately I also shot them at a lake with sky in the background and those were much much better!! I learned my lesson.
  4. The key here is film choice.Use a medium contrast film such as NPH or Portra 400NC and expose properly(for the shadows).The brightness range of a dark suit(tux) and a white wedding gown in the same scene is a common wedding scenario.

    The solutions are many, and not in simply overexposing the color negative film.

    Use 2 flash heads on a camera bracket. Or have a remote slave flash, total 2 lights. The 2
    lights will reduce the effective contrast, and produce a more 3D look. This is an excellent
    idea. It works well in any situation. You will need a specially adapted Stroboframe to do

    Use a diffusion filter on your flashes. You'll lose 2 f stops of power here, so you may have
    to use 400 ASA film to compensate for your loss.

    Fool your camera into slightly overexposing: set your film speed to a film speed which is
    1 f stop slower, and use color negative film only.

    Use natural light whenever possible. This diffused fill light will lighten areas a flash
    arrangement cannot.

    Use bounce flash whenever possible. This is diffused light. You will need a white or beige
    ceiling to bounce light from. An 8' white ceiling will cause you a 2 f stop loss.

    Pose them against a medium color background. I know, you thought I was going to say
    "white" but if you do, the auto mode will be fooled into lowering the flash power and
    possibily underexposing the film. The camera or flash unit is sort of "set" and calibrated
    to see a medium tone. It LIKES a medium tone.

    Pose them very, very near any wall. They should stand only one or one and one half feet in
    front of any wall or background. If you use more distance between them and the wall, the
    wall will go darker in the final print. Again, use lots of bounce light.

    In outdoors light, use natural light, no flash, but always turn their back to the sun. The
    exposure for ASA 100 film under blue sky shade is 1/125th at f2.8. If you are using ASA
    400 film, use 1/125 at f4-1/2. Otherwise use your incident meter and shield the dome
    from the blue sky above. Otherwise with your auto mode in your reflected type meter in
    your camera or flash; point at the darker clothing or grassy ground to get an exposure.
    But my suggested exposure amount will likely work very well.

    If you can, use an incident meter. Learn how to "shield the meter" to meter for the fill.
    Instructions and discussion can be found by search with for
    "incidentmeterreading" No spaces. Look for my name in the discussion.

    Bring some light discs with you in silver and white surfaces. Place these on the ground or
    have a guest (they will help you) point the silver reflector from a place under the knees of
    the person upward towards their face. You can also purchase some silver mylar vinyl
    canvas and lay this on the ground. Buy about 3-4 yards. Search only for
    "fhi018" model number and located at

    The white dress of the bride will also provide some fill light for the darker Groom if they
    are seated, perhaps. Photograph the Bride slightly in front of the Groom with his arms
    around her for this effect.


    Try not to flash very closely. 6 feet is better than 5 feet, for example with a flash. But 8
    feet is even better with a flash. This may make you use a short telephoto. This will put
    the "rule of inverse square" on your side to reduce contrast alittle.

    "lightingatthealtar" "meterforthefilllighting" "meterforthefill"

    Timber Borcherding timberborcherding
  6. Do not shoot with a camera on auto, the relective meter will be tricked. The
    best way to meter is with the hand held meter that you have mentioned. Make
    sure that you know how to use the meter correctly..hold it in front of your
    subjects pointing at your camera. Doing this will measure the light falling on
    your subjects, not the light that is reflected from them..the light that falls on
    them does not change if they are light or dark. Also as mentioned already, do
    not have too dark a background such as all trees.
  7. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    One other thought. Darker skin usually falls on a gray card Zone V so there is less chance of the meter being fooled by it. Lighter skin falls on a Zone VI so one has to open up one stop if metering off the light skin. It is easier to get a correct exposure with darker skin than with lighter skin.
  8. I think that "dark skin" would be more likely a Zone 3 or 4. Furthermore, any reflective
    readings can be adversely affected by the overly broad coverage of the meter. I would
    rather sow seeds of doubt than to give this person confidence that he will have success
    with what he has got! He has some shooting procedure adjustments to make!
  9. Timber - there is some debate about Zones for African Americans...
    "From the meter reading, exposure for a caucasian probably should be increased a stop or slightly more in order to accurately place the skin in the zone above Zone V and the suit coat in the dark but detailed realm of Zone IV or Zone III. The black woman probably ought to be given a little less exposure than the "spot" reading of her face indicates: at Zone IV she will be dark and have plenty of detail and the white dress will now lie in the well-textured vicinity of Zone VII."
    Yet if you look at a chart it could be interpreted as Zone III
    Zone 0 Total black
    Zone I Black without any texture
    Zone II Black with slight suggestion of tonality
    Zone III Darkest areas that still retail some visible detail
    Zone IV Average shadows in landscapes or portraits
    Zone V Middle Gray - 18% gray card
    Zone VI Average Caucasian skin - Shadows on snow in sunlit snowscapes
    Zone VII Lightest areas in any scene that still retain some visible detail
    Zone VIII White areas with slightly visible textures - Highlights on Caucasian skin
    Zone IX Glaring white surfaces - Highlights without any texture
    Zone X A light source (records only as the maximum white value of paper surface)

    I'd say bracket...just to be safe.
  10. One person who may be photographing darker skinned persons at weddings is Carl
    Williams. Sooner or later, he will chime in. He should give his opinions and experience

    What I do in practice is to use 2 flash heads and over expose 2/3 f stop with color negative
    film. So, I rate a ASA 160 Vericolor/Porta to be 100 and then provide more buffer
    exposure to go to ASA 80. So, I don't know how you want to define "exposure
    compensation" here because most wedding photographers rate Portra differently. But the
    film can stand the overexposure anyway.

    By overexposing alittle, you make sure that if the flash has not recycled fully during a
    burst of shots by the photographer, you won't have some under exposure. The little
    "charged" light goes on usually before the unit is at 100% power. Maybe it goes on at 85%
    for the sake of argument. With another .2 of a second, it would be at 100%. But if you are
    rapidly shooting, you can't tell what happened. Therefore, I overexpose for this reason,
    too. The fact that I might be helping out the dark skinned exposure issue is just a 2nd
    issue solved: 2 for 1.

    I say "shut off the auto mode" and learn to use manual mode. I never use auto mode
    unless I place a slave unit into the hands of a guest, such as a Vivitar 285. I take control at
    all times for my exposure values.

    Using a 2nd light source at the altar is very important for dark skinned folks. A 2nd
    source can be as simple as a used $25 vivitar 283 purchased at the auctions. Add a slave
    unit to it and you have a 2nd source of light. Even if there is alittle mismatch in light
    output between the camera unit and the slave, there is no problem. The 2nd light will
    illuminate the sides of their faces that would normally disappear with a one-flash-unit

    I say Robert should go out and purchase a Vivitar 285 and stick a slave on it. A guest or
    usher can hold the unit in their hands; you don't really need a stand for it. I know this to
    be the solution. And no, you really don't need an umbrella. An umbrella is only a extra
    slight improvement that requires 4 more times the power to run.
  11. Since you are a MF user and have and use a manual meter, just use your meter in incident mode. You didn't say if your 35 is autofocus or not, but you can certainly set the camera to expose manually! Just treat it like your MF! The real trick is the film as has been mentioned. Use a Pro film of moderate contrast, such as Portra 160NC or 400NC. I prefer these for wedding work (sorry to all you Fuji users). I DO however like the NPZ 800 stuff from Fuji. Bright churches can be hand held if you're steady enough. (Good grain structure in MF!) Your Metz 45 flash is pretty good unit. Solid and stable! Neg film can take the overexposure of dance shots in dark halls. Just use the settings as per the flash and you will get acceptable prints.
  12. Here is a NPZ image shot handheld.
  13. David P.'s comments don't go to the core of the problem for dark skinned folks: simply
    choosing another film type will only have a tiny effect. Over exposure is a safety net, but
    not the whole answer. Several methods of using softer light should be used. I think the
    readers should understand that the picture above does not illustrate the problem and any

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