December 14, 2017

How To Photograph People Of Different Color

Studio Lighting And The Effects On Skin Tone

Many amateur photographers can get hung up on how to photograph people of different color when taking a portrait using studio lighting. If you know how to control your lighting then it really isn't that hard. If you just think about the problem you will come to realize that for dark skin people you will need to use more light since the skin will absorb it more than let's say a person with light skin. When you find yourself in a position where this issue may be problematic, the best way to handle it is to be prepared.

Let's say you are doing some individual corporate shots where you created one set-up where you expect people will be walking onto the set throughout the day. You do a lighting test with your pasty white skin assistant, correct your exposure and declare to the powers-at-be that you're ready to go - so send them in one at a time. Everything is going smoothly until people of various colored skin stand posed under the lights. Well if you're not paying attention, your next exposure for the face is going to be dark. Maybe a half stop, maybe a full stop. In any case you need to pay attention.

Sure you can make corrections with your digital file, but that isn't the point. You want to become a master of your lighting regardless if its in a studio or out on location. If you simply rely on the easy way out, you're won't improve your skill level. Now let's say you'll be shooting men with suit jackets on and men without suit jacks on. All men are wearing crisp, starched white shirts. Do you see a potential problem here? A Caucasian male wearing just a white dress shirt shouldn't be too much of a problem in your exposure settings. You might have to scrim the light on the shirt a bit without blowing the shirt out. But the real problem lies when you shoot an Afro-American wearing a white dress shirt. If you expose for the face, the shirt will blow out. If you expose for the shirt, the face becomes to dark. Yes, you're probably reading this and thinking there is always Photoshop. Don't rely on that fix. Improve your craft as a photographer. Be a master of your lighting.

So what do you do when faced the the problem I just mentioned above? Find a way to reduce the light on the shirt without sacrificing your light on the face. If you're shooting studio strobes, use one small diffused light on the face, and use another just for the shirt. Either adjust the power of your lights or adjust the distance of the lights to the target area. Or use additional diffusion material to cut down the power on the shirt.

One final note on how to photograph people of different color. If the client doesn't want to pony up for a make-up artist, pay attention to the shine on the faces. And it doesn't matter what color the person's skin is. Bring along a small make-up kit with some powder and pads. Use enough just to kill the shine. Some men might get squirmy but most will go with the flow. It all depends how you approach the issue of shine. Yes, we all shine under the lights.


Black-White-Portraits ©Frank Marchese

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