If you have been photographing the recent protests taking place around the world, you may have noticed that there is a sea of skin tones; from fair & light to rich & dark. Not only can you find these levels of melanin at the protests, but also at family sessions & weddings (check out our some of our previous interracial sessions here). In fact, Joel & I are an interracial couple and finding a wedding photographer that could capture both of our skin tones beautifully was a primary goal. However, during our search several years ago, we learned that many photographers did not have experience capturing multiple skin tones in the same image. If you are planning on capturing subjects of varying hues, here are a few tips on how to photograph everyone beautifully.
Place your primary light source closer to the subject with darker skin. You may have to burn (increase the exposure to darken areas) a little in post-production to make sure the subjects with lighter skin aren’t too bright. If you are shooting outdoors, a reflector will be helpful to lighten darker skin tones and highlight facial details. Also, look for evenly-shaded areas so there is no competition between the natural light and subjects’ skin. Another tip to remember: don’t place darker-skinned subjects against dark backgrounds or lighter-skinned subjects against light backgrounds unless you’re going to light them separately.
Expose for the skin, not the sky, the background or their clothes. If you expose for the sky without using a secondary light source, your subjects will be too dark (regardless of their skin tone). However, if you have a beautiful background that you also want featured, make sure your subjects are lit separately with a fill light using a flash or a reflector.
Use the Highlights/Fill Light/Curves adjustment slider in post-production to lighten or darken skin tones accordingly. This will provide tonality and detail. The Dodge tool and Burn tool is also helpful if you have just one light source or no way to soften the light during the session. If this is the case, shoot each subject properly exposed so you have an example of what their skin tone is like, then use post-production to closely achieve that.
The human race is literally made up of a rainbow of hues and tones, each beautiful in their own way. It is imperative that we know how to light various skin tones properly to give them the visibility they deserve. With these tips, and a sense of respect for our differences, we can start to capture the world in its true form and (as Cyndi Lauper sang) let our true colors shine through.