3 Simple Tips for Achieving Natural Skin Tones
I don't have amazing skin. AT ALL.
In fact, I didn't get acne until AFTER high school. I turned 18, went to my first semester of college, and my face turned into a 15 year old's acne nightmare.
So as a adult-acne survivor, I LOVE seeing my not-so-perfect skin looking smooth, creamy, and oh-so-perfect in images. It makes me feel like a million bucks!
So as much as we photographers care about the artistry, background, light, and composition of our images (all very important still) the BIGGEST thing that most of our clients care about is looking NATURAL.
In fact, with everything else being equal, your clients will (1) be the most happy with their images and (2) look their best if their skin looks as naturally perfect as possible.
So how do we do that?
Well, there's no magic post processing tricks to get skin tones just right after a shoot (although there's a bunch of Photoshop actions that try pretty hard).
It's really all about how you CAPTURE the image in your camera.
The best way to get your clients to look their best and have the most natural skin tones is to shoot the image "properly" at the time of capture.
So when you're shooting for clean, clear, creamy skin tones, here's three big tips straight from Casa de Youngren:
1. Use The Palm of Your Hand to Find Quality Light
When selecting a location to shoot, if you have the ability to choose between two locations, ALWAYS choose the one with the better light over the better background.
Light wins over background. Every time.
And when it comes to great light, there's two major components:
QUANTITY is the measure of how much light is present - or how bright the light is.
QUALITY is how pleasing the light actually is.
Harsh sunlight on someones face has a lot of Quantity, but not a lot of Quality.
Conversely, imagine sunlight striking a giant white building on the other side of the street, reflecting off that building and producing a soft, white light that illuminates your subject in a flattering way.
Now THAT'S quality light.
The easiest way to make a judgement about the quality of the light is to hold your hand out in front of your face, at arms length, and look at the skin on the palm of your hand.
That soft skin on your palm is similar to facial skin, so the palm of your hand will tell you how someone's skin tone will look in the light you're choosing.
Move your hand around, and study how the light changes on your hand while turning in different directions.
This is something that Jeff and I do all the time - just ask our clients.
When we're walking around on a shoot, we're constantly checking our hand and looking for a skin tone that is bright, clean, and true-to-life - not super red, green, or blue - but a fresh, balanced white.
To get an idea of what I mean, here's a few exercises to try:
Find a room that is dark and only illuminated by a window. Hold your palm a few feet away from the window facing toward the window.
Notice that the quality of light is very even and pleasing on your hand, right?
Now slowly move away from the window (where it becomes darker) and watch how that light changes quite quickly.
Go outside and find a big shady spot like the shade of a building or a tree.
Stand right at the edge where the shadow ends, and hold your palm facing out away from the shadow while walking forwards and backwards (if your body is facing towards a building, for example, you're palm will be facing towards your face away from the shadow).
Notice how quickly the light changes on your hand as you move deeper into the shadow.
Also notice how nice and creamy the light is right at the edge of the shadow and the harsh light.
As you do this in different environments (by trees, different colored buildings, near water, near glass buildings) you'll begin to "see" how light changes, where it's reflecting, and where to position your subjects for the best skin tones based on what you like on the palm of your hand.
2. Overexpose. But just a little bit.
Friends, the importance of exposure can't ever be underestimated.
It's always best to have the exposure that you want straight out of the camera, instead of brightening up your images in post.
The less work you do on the backend, the better!
So if there's any "tricks" that we do, it's that we overexpose skin tones a touch - by about 1/3 stop - all the time.
When your eye sees an image, it confuses brightness for smoothness, so if we overexpose for skin, we'll get it looking a little brighter and therefore a little smoother and appealing.
This is a really delicate thing because if you overexpose by too much (say, a full stop) you're going to get into some issues with white balance.
So use this trick sparingly, and with practice.
3. Shoot in RAW
There's a ton of great reasons to shoot in RAW (just do a quick search for the RAW vs JPG debate, or check out this article on the RAW format) but the primary reasons for shooting in RAW in your camera in relation to skin tone would be:
- The ability to adjust color temperature / white balance after the fact
- The fact that the amount of data contained in a RAW image is exponentially greater than that contained in a JPG file
What this mean, is that if we don't absolutely nail the color temperature or exposure during the shoot (even though we try so very hard!), we'll be able to adjust it after the fact to give the most appealing skin tones possible if we shot it in RAW instead of JPG.
In addition, since RAW files contain so much more color information, we're able to make really fine color and contrast adjustments to get things super perfect.
Hopefully this helps - if you have any follow-up questions, if I can clarify anything, or if you've simply got a burning question you've been dying to ask, head on over to our Photographer-Only Facebook Group!
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