Looking for help in nailing skin tones...

jwbryson1

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I have been shooting more portraits lately and one thing that I always seem to need adjusting in PP is skin tones. I have used a gray card in the past for WB but, in the end, the skin tones in my images tend to come out a bit too red and orange, and I wish I could find a way to fix this without all the time spent in PP.

So, I am wondering what is a "correct" appearance for skin tones? Does it often require an addition of some yellow to the mix? Is it a case by case issue?

One of my favorite photographers (David Sixt Photography) always NAILS the skin tones. Granted, he's using better equipment than I am, he's a full-time pro with 30+ years of experience and he's much better at using LR than me. But, I'm just not sure what his adjustments are from reviewing his images. I know he uses some presets in LR (he does not use any software except LR), and it appears that there is some yellow added, but what else does he do to get these great results?

Thanks for reading!
 

Designer

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Please describe your lighting setup.
 

runnah

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One of my favorite photographers (David Sixt Photography) always NAILS the skin tones. Granted, he's using better equipment than I am, he's a full-time pro with 30+ years of experience and he's much better at using LR than me.

Mr. Sixt should be drawn and quartered for having music on his website that autostarts.

I've found that nail the WB is the biggest factor I have with skin tones.
 
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jwbryson1

jwbryson1

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Mr. Sixt should be drawn and quartered for having music on his website that autostarts.


I turn down the volume and gaze in awe at his exceptional work. So, you do zero PP on skin tones?

Designer, it varies. I typically shoot with 2 softboxes CL and CR at 45*, and maybe a rim light.
 
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jwbryson1

jwbryson1

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Runnah, I wonder if a **better** gray card might help me out?
 

runnah

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Mr. Sixt should be drawn and quartered for having music on his website that autostarts.


I turn down the volume and gaze in awe at his exceptional work. So, you do zero PP on skin tones?

Designer, it varies. I typically shoot with 2 softboxes CL and CR at 45*, and maybe a rim light.

Yeah not that much. Then again I am by no means a portrait master. This I just used the WB dropper and picked the shirt button.



mapleguy2b by runnah555, on Flickr
 

Derrel

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I looked at just one of his slide shows, and the music was God-awful, so I stopped after 8 images, but *I* thought his images were deliberately skewed TOO yellow...because many people like overly-warm images. Skin tone rendering is a personal choice,somewhat; the old wisdom I heard from a friend who worked for 20+ years at a major metro daily as an image preparation tech was that, "People like images with too much magenta,". If it's too red, many people like it. I think British people often prefer wayyyyyyy too yellow an overall look, based on what I have seen from UK on-line newspapers and magazines. (Not kidding on this.)

There are some LR presets that modify colors. Matt's Killer Lightroom Tips has a few that look decent with one click. His AUTO ENHANCE- Portrait (Nikon) preset looks good with my Nikon files. His HDR LOOK- (Medium) also looks good. Both look pretty similar, actually...with my set-up.

There are multiple ways to set up a camera. Adobe RGB, sRGB, Color Mode I, II, or III, and permutations. PLUS, white balance AND white balance fine-tune in-camera. PLUS processing! I don't think there's any easy answer to your questions.
 

runnah

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I looked at just one of his slide shows, and the music was God-awful, so I stopped after 8 images, but *I* thought his images were deliberately skewed TOO yellow...because many people like overly-warm images. Skin tone rendering is a personal choice,somewhat; the old wisdom I heard from a friend who worked for 20+ years at a major metro daily as an image preparation tech was that, "People like images with too much magenta,". If it's too red, many people like it. I think British people often prefer wayyyyyyy too yellow an overall look, based on what I have seen from UK on-line newspapers and magazines. (Not kidding on this.)

Chalk that up to the whole PAL vs. NTSC video standards.
 

Buckster

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I'll assume you're already calibrating your monitor, at least, and your printer if you're printing from home. Beyond that, if you're serious about wanting to NAIL color and faithfully reproduce it, then just get a ColorChecker Passport, follow the instructions, and be done with it. That's as close as you're going to get to what I call "Xerox Machine" photography.

After that, if the colors match up between screen/prints and the Passport, but you're still not happy with the skin tones because they look "off", then it's your eyes and brain and perception that are having a problem with it, and that's common.

Once you come to that understanding, then you should probably just balance to taste which, in my opinion, you should be doing anyway. But that's because I don't personally feel that photography should necessarily be used like a Xerox machine to try to make "exact" copies of the perception of reality, which is impossible anyway. That explains why I'm not opposed to using gels or gold reflectors or late afternoon sun or other any of hundreds of other methods to introduce a color cast that achieves a particular look I'm after.

Think about it. If you take a photo of someone facing into bright, not a cloud in the sky sun, and another just before sunset, and another with studio lights, and another in tungsten lights, and another on a cloudy day outdoors, and another in the middle of a rainstorm, and another in a club with disco lights flashing, they're ALL going to have different skin colors. Which one is "correct"? All of them! They are each "correct" for the light they were shot in.

Now imagine that you're in the studio and you want to make a portrait that mimics the light from a sunset, or any of those other conditions. You could filter the light. Or change the white balance, and further, you could do it at the time of the shoot OR you could do it in post processing. Either way, "correct" is only "correct" to your vision of how you want the result. It doesn't matter what the original conditions were, and it certainly doesn't matter what the "actual" skin color is, because there is none - it's merely a perception of color that's dependent on what kind of light it's reflecting at any particular moment we're looking at it. If it's lit by disco lights, skin is bright blue or red or green, from one moment to the next.

The myth that you can achieve "perfect" skin color and tone; As in, something that perfectly matches the actual skin color and tone of the person, is just that: A myth. That's because color and tone are a perception manufactured by our brains, and that perception changes from moment to moment as the light and shadow and color around the subject changes.
 

amolitor

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You do, typically, need to make the skin tones in the picture fit with any visual cues given in the picture.

- cold blue skin tones in what is obviously a late afternoon beach photo, for example, are not going to play. You're going to dislike it.
- if there are no visual cues in the picture, you can either shoot for neutral, or try to set a sense time/light by going warm or cool. your call. It might work, it might not.
- you may want to, in general, render the skin tones a little more neutral in pictures than they were in life. I theorize that our eyes/brains compensate the colors based on visual cues, but not as much as we do in life.
 

kathyt

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You can't use a preset to get accurate skin tones. You just can't. The reason you can't is because everyone is starting from a different image. That is like saying 10 different chefs can get the same end result just because they used this "magical oven," after they each used different ingredients! There are basic guidelines for processing skin tones. Once you learn those guidelines then editing becomes a lot easier, and the less and less you have to check them. You can tweak them to your tastes as much as you want, but the foundations will still stay the same.
 

Murray Bloom

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Everyone's skin is different. The only foolproof way is to cut a small skin swatch from each subject and then preserve it. Then you have a reference. The downside is all the screaming and a falloff in work.

I hope you know I'm kidding. :wink:
 

Gavjenks

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Everyone's skin is different. The only foolproof way is to cut a small skin swatch from each subject and then preserve it. Then you have a reference. The downside is all the screaming and a falloff in work.
It would change color in minutes. The only way is to just kidnap the whole person.

But even THEN, it wouldn't work, because the lighting matters, of course. If you take a photo of somebody under red neon lights, then later on use that person for reference with a highly calibrated setup in your photography calibration dungeon, it won't tell you squat about how to adjust the photo you took earlier with the neon light.

And even if you smashed the store window that the light was in, took it home with you, and now also know the exact spectral output of the neon light as well as had the person on hand to measure, there is still no single clear answer. Because the viewer of the image will still interpret it entirely differently depending on whether it LOOKS like there was a neon light present, or not.

For example, if part of a store front or bar is visible in the image, people will probably assume it was a neon light, compensate out for that in their mind, and be totally happy with super red skin tones, saying that you "nailed it." Whereas if the light was coming from a bar, but you can't see the bar or any evidence of it in the photo, instead there are only sodium street lamps in the background, then it may just look like your colors are horribly wrong, even though it's the same exact lighting.

Good reading on this topic: Color constancy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Bottom line: You pretty much just have to wing it and practice to get optimal results. Not rely on machines or formulae to make the decisions, because the viewer will be bringing all their squishy psychology to the table, and currently we don't have the technology to prepare for that very well with anything but your OWN squishy psychology and instincts.
 

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