Flesh color tones

edited January 2016 Posted in » Canon T5i / 700D Forum
My partner is of Indian origin and has a brown skin. My photos of her are always "too dark" in her estimation! How can I produce facial shots which display lighter skin tones without the whole photo looking too over exposed?


  • edited January 2016
    Skin tone can always be a problem, but one thing I would suggest as a starting point would be, if you are doing portraits, to try spot metering on the face, so that only that face is metered. If you're doing a portrait, the rest of the photograph will be background and may not be optimally exposed, but that's just too bad. If you are doing an environmental portrait in which the background must also be well exposed, you have more of a problem. Try to keep the light diffuse, and avoid dark shadows. If you must use flash, try to keep it from casting shadows.

    The other thing you might do is to make sure you shoot in Raw mode, which allows you to fine tune white balance afterwards. White balance influences other colors too, and you might find a hue that's more pleasing to her. You can also do further exposure compensation, and although I'm not sure of the terminology for Canon, shadow recovery which will lighten dark areas without over-brightening the others.

    One other thing I've seen suggested is to avoid very bright, especially white, clothing.

    It's always going to be a little bit difficult to get results that please everyone, and it's quite possible that the default color balance for your camera's portrait settings will be biased toward lighter skin too, so I'd suggest going to one of the normal P, S, A or M modes instead. Also, depending on what color sets (again, not sure of Canon terminology here - in Nikons it's "picture controls") are available, I'd suggest not using the vivid color set. Again, this is something you can probably vary easily in post if you shoot Raw.

    Beyond that, this issue is a pretty complicated one, and professionals use all sorts of post processing techniques to get around it. You'll probably do well to do some hunting around the net for further hints, though many will likely involve steps you can't easily do or afford.
  • edited January 2016
    Bruto, thank you so much for your detailed response. I will follow your suggestions and check my results. I was thinking of trying Bracketed Exposure to get an over exposure shot. I am very much a newbie to DSLR photography and have just ordered Photoshop Elements 14 to try and get the right skin tone color.
  • edited January 2016
    A very neglected feature on Canon cameras is 'picture styles'. It is possible to change the parameters of any of the registered picture styles. Additionally, it is possible to preserve the base styles by changing a parameter and then saving the new style as a User Defined style.
    All of the instructions are in your manual (look up Picture Styles in the index) and are quite easy to follow.
    Briefly, choose your portrait style and play around with the Color Tone parameter. Moving to the left will make skin tones redder or darker and moving to the right will make the skin more yellow or lighter.
    Obviously you will have to take test shots of your wife until you and she are satisfied with the result. When you are, save your style as a User Defined style. When you need to take portraits of your wife again simply choose your User Defined. The original Portait Style will remain the same and can be used for other subjects.
    I do agree with much that @BRUTO has advised you, but highly recommend that you try customising the picture style first.
  • edited January 2016
    Hi again @HOTHAM_SHOT,
    Just checked online and the pages in the manual you need to refer to are pages 132-136.
  • edited January 2016
    My Nikon allows a similar action, but (being a relative bottom feeder) does not allow a user defined picture style (what Nikon calls a picture control). The modification does not include white balance, which is separately adjusted. There is a custom white balance option. Unfortunately, also, each of the picture controls has a different starting point, whose exact characteristics are not published. So although you can modify any one, there's a little question of which one to start with, as different colors are emphasized in different ways. For example, the Landscape style has a slight elevation of overall vividness, but an extra dose of green. Portrait is geared toward the flesh tones of lighter skin, and so forth. You might find that a neutral or normal picture style makes a better starting point than portrait. But if your camera has the ability to save a custom one, then by all means, I would work with that, because the possibilities are very extensive. If you can get a picture style that works well, it will be very easy to switch to it as needed.
  • edited January 2016
    PBKED and @BRUTO, thank you so much for your responses. I was completely unaware of the picture styles feature on the Canon and I will thoroughly check this out later today. It seems to offer the flexibility of adjusting ones own "color tone" settings and then ensuring consistency throughout other shots. As a newbie I also have the shadow syndrome when taking shots with my wife in foreground and scenery in the background and have yet to work out the best approach to taking such shots with "true" color tones. Maybe post shooting processing with Photoshop Elements might be the best way here as face color tones can be corrected independently of the scenery background?
  • As for shadows, that will be often a problem when the light comes from overhead. Fill flash helps, but you must be careful that this does not create new shadows or wash out. You might try compensating the in camera flash to a lower setting just to open faces up a little. That should have little or no effect on the background exposure. It will take some experimenting.

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