How to Photograph and Flatter Skin Tones


Lesson Info

White Balance

One of the first things that can definitely mess up your shot, is if you have the wrong white balance. If you have the wrong white balance, skin is not going to look the way that it should. And there's a bunch of different things that can mess up your white balance. For example, I don't tell people that you need to buy the most expensive lighting gear ever. But, if you go for really, really inexpensive studio strobes, for example, depending on your recycle time, and how quickly you shoot, do you ever actually see that the color changes? And so even if you're like, yeah, you know what? I'm gonna shoot in the studio and put my preset on flash. Yeah, but it changes so it won't actually be consistent. So there are reasons that maybe you'd need to bump up to the more expensive strobe. But I'm gonna show you my suggestions of how to get white balance right without doing anything more expensive or anything fancier. First of all, for making skin look good, don't shoot auto white balance. Maybe...

if you're shooting a landscape and you're trying to have interesting color, no. Don't shoot auto. And the reason why, is auto is influenced by things in the environment. When you have auto, it's looking for everything in the scene and trying to neutralize. So for example, right now, if you shoot me against that gray background with auto, I will have the wrong skin tone because my camera is looking at all of this red. And it sees the red as warmth and goes, way too much red and it cools it down, which means my skin is going to look much bluer, and much less saturated. It's gonna look really cool and kind of dead and gray. And so auto is not the way to go. And the other problem that auto has, is a lot of times it messes up with darker skin tones. I don't know if you guys have had this experience, but when you shoot with auto white balance on darker skin tones or black skin tones, it reads the red in the skin, just like my dress, and goes, oh, there's a lot of red, and messes up the white balance. So my point is, don't, don't do auto white balance. And so in order of what to do and what not to do, don't do auto, first of all. The next thing down is if you don't do auto, at least shoot with a white balance preset at minimum. So for example, when I'm in the studio, I shoot with a flash preset, or if I'm outside in the shade, I would shoot with a shade preset. But, not all shade is the same level of warmth and coolness, and not all studio strobes are the same. So they get you closer, but they're not gonna get it right. Really, what you're supposed to do, what you really need to do, is have a gray card or a color checker. John, can I have the gray card? All right, great. So this is a gray card. And a gray card is, well, it's a gray card. And so what it is, it's completely neutral. It has no color cast to it. And so what you do, is you take a picture of your subject with a gray card, under the light that will be illuminating them. And then what you do in post, in Light Room, or Adobe Camera Raw, or Capture One, or whatever you do, is you're telling the computer that this should be neutral, and so in Light Room it's a white balance eye dropper, and you're saying, whatever I'm clicking on is gray. And then what it does, is it sucks out any color cast, anything that's not supposed to be there. So that works great. And it doesn't have to be this, this is the X Rite Passport Color Checker, it doesn't have to be this one, it could be, they have a gray card lens cloths, but if you get it dirty, it's not gray anymore, so just be aware of that. But there are pop up targets and a lot of different things. But just have something neutral in the scene that later on, you can select from. Now, you may have seen in Color Checkers, or some of these tools, that there's actually another flap, okay? It's actually another part of this, and so I'm gonna show you that. So you many have seen this. And so this used to be the Gretagmacbeth chart, and what this is, is it's taking the white balance thing, it's actually going another step further, it's not for white balance, it's to make sure the colors that you're camera is capturing and showing are the actual colors in the scene. This would be more advanced, it's really if you're seeing that the colors aren't looking good, or maybe you're shooting a lot of saturated colors in the scene. Because what happens is when you take a picture of this, every single one of these swatches has a specific RGB CMYK value, a very specific color value. These are actually paint swatches, this is actually pigment. And so what you do, is these different programs, this one again, is X Rite, but there's a couple other ones. You have a free Light Room plug in. And so when you take a picture of this, you run the plug in on that picture, and it detects all the colors, it knows what they're supposed to be and it makes them the correct colors. So for example, I have found that I shoot with a Canon 5 DMark III, 5 DMark IV, 5 DS, for some reason, the blues and purples look kind of weird. The purples end up looking more blue than they should, and so I'll use this, for the most part, skin tones look pretty good if I just do the gray card. But if you're having problems, and the color is just not looking like this is what you captured, give this a try. Definitely gray card, try the Colorchecker full thing if you need to. So lets take a look real quick. Gray card, you might see something like that. All right, so you guys can see a bit of this. Picture on the left, is with auto white balance, picture on the right, is auto white balance, but I had a gray card in there. So I was able to use that gray card as a neutral point. Her skin has much more warmth, much more saturation. Auto was not doing her any justice. And then with the Color Checker, same idea. Now, one other thing I wanted to show you, now that it's bigger, you see these two lines right here? These are technically gray swatches. But they're not. If you look at it, you see that as you move over, they get a little bit more blue. Bluer, and bluer, and bluer. So if you're looking at a skin tone, and you'd like it to be richer, there are times when you want it to be correct, feel like, oh, for my mood, I want it to be warmer. What this does, is when you click on something that's blue, it actually says, oh, there's blue in the photo, and it warms it up, it corrects it, it goes the opposite direction. So you could actually use these as a way to incrementally warm up your photo, but in a more natural looking way, instead of just warming up the white balance, it does it more incrementally. So that's an option as well. So picture on the left is auto white balance, that is not good. Then I did my flash white balance preset. I mean, it's better. Notice, if you look at the auto white balance one, look how blue this background is, that is a fashion gray background. It's a gray background and it looks blue, because it saw her red skin, go, oh, too much red, corrected, and added blue, which means it's totally wrong. So then, the next one over, the white balance preset for flash is better. And then on the right hand side is when I did the Color Checker white balance. And it's much warmer, and much more lively to her skin. So you definitely wanna take control of your white balance. So that's the first one, and that one's pretty easy to do, it's just remembering to do it, that's kind of the hard part, but one other tip or suggestion, is if you were switching out modifiers, you're changing your modifier during a shoot, you have to take a new photo every time you change your modifier, because modifiers have different warmths or coolness to them. Especially if you're shooting with, say, a soft box that is really, really old. Because the front of that diffusion is going to be old and yellowed. And so when you take that picture, you're photo is going to be much warmer. And so then, you switch over to, say, a silver zoom reflector, and it's gonna be a heck of a lot cooler. So it's not like you can do a white balance once for your lights, and then shoot everything with that white balance. Every time you change the modifier, you need to grab a picture. It changes the color of the shot.

Skin is one of the most important things to flatter in your portraits and there are so many elements to consider! In this course Lindsay Adler will cover the most important ways she ensures that she flatters her subject's skin. She'll walk through every consideration leading up to your shoot from modifier choice, position of the light, white balance, color contamination, makeup, and more. Learn how to capture great skin in-camera so you can save time in your post-processing.



  • The topic is too big to cover all the solutions in depth in such a short amount of time, but this seems like a great overview for beginners to understand the range of problems with making skin look good in photos. Lindsay does a great job of making her class topics easy to understand.
  • Great primer on skin tones, lighting, and considerations for different types of skin. One of the few teachers that discusses dark skin tones!