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Choos­ing the right skin col­or, or skin tone, is one of the main tasks of col­or cor­rec­tion. A pho­to­graph in which peo­ple’s skin is not bluish, yel­low­ish, or green­ish looks more expen­sive and more attrac­tive. How­ev­er, choos­ing the per­fect shade is not an easy task, espe­cial­ly for begin­ners. In this text, we under­stand what the cor­rect skin­ton should be, and how to get it, we under­stand in this arti­cle.

Prob­lems with skin col­or usu­al­ly start with an incor­rect­ly set white bal­ance when shoot­ing. Most mod­ern cam­eras shoot in RAW, which is why pho­tog­ra­phers often don’t pay atten­tion to the bal­ance in the shoot­ing, as it is easy to cor­rect it in post-pro­duc­tion. More­over, the white bal­ance will dif­fer when shoot­ing in the sun and against the sun, in the light and in the shade. You can’t cor­rect him every five min­utes. Here are the pic­tures from here:

On the left — the way the shot was tak­en (bluish skin), on the right — col­or cor­rec­tion (skin-col­ored skin) / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Why the right skin­tone is impor­tant
Cor­rect skin col­or by num­bers Lab
Skin Col­or Tools
Cor­rect­ing skin tone with white bal­ance
Cor­rect­ing skin col­or with HSL
When is it dan­ger­ous to do col­or cor­rec­tion “by eye“
Skin col­or and cre­ativ­i­ty

Skin col­or is one of the anchors for the human eye. We all under­stand how a per­son should look. And if you show the left pic­ture from the pre­vi­ous illus­tra­tion even to an unpre­pared per­son, he will under­stand that some­thing is wrong with him. Even if the lay­man can­not for­mu­late what exact­ly the prob­lem is, for him it will look like “some guys are very pale”, “some pho­to is dark and not very pro­fes­sion­al”. And these are def­i­nite­ly not the epi­thets that a pho­tog­ra­ph­er wants to hear applic­a­ble to his work. In gen­er­al, if you want to achieve a nat­ur­al col­or, when choos­ing a white bal­ance, you should pay atten­tion to three things. We list them in order of impor­tance:

  • peo­ple should be the col­ors of peo­ple;
  • white must be white;
  • gray and black should be gray and black.

Then the view­er will have the feel­ing that every­thing is in order with the col­or, there are no stray shades on the frame.

The ques­tion aris­es, how to under­stand what col­or the skin should be. There’s a way to nev­er go wrong with a skin­tone: use the num­bers in the Lab col­or mod­el. Let’s not dive deep into the the­o­ry of col­or spaces. In the con­text of a skin­ton, only the essence is impor­tant to us: in Lab, each col­or has three para­me­ters:

  • L — how light this col­or is (0 — black, 100 — white);
  • A — how green or red this col­or is (-100 — green, 100 — red);
  • B — how blue or yel­low this col­or is (-100 — blue, 100 — yel­low).

The Lab fig­ures can be seen in Adobe Light­room. To do this, we will need to put the top pan­el in Lab mode. Open Light­room, in the tab Devel­op / Devel­op­ment we find a his­togram in the upper right cor­ner. Right-click on the small tri­an­gle in the upper left cor­ner of the his­togram.

In the dia­log box that opens, check the box Show Lab Col­or Val­ues ​​/ Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Now, when you hov­er over any part of the pho­to, Lab num­bers will be dis­played under the his­togram. Let’s move the mouse, for exam­ple, on white blan­kets.

L=864A=1.1; B=-1.4. This means that this col­or is very light, a lit­tle pink­ish and a lit­tle bluish. Ide­al­ly, white should show zeros in A and B, but in real life, devi­a­tions of up to 4–5 points in any direc­tion are nor­mal / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Where to look at the num­bers and how it works, fig­ured it out, now let’s move on to the skin. Human skin is red-yel­low. Euro­peans have a lit­tle more yel­low than red. The Lab num­bers for the skin­tone must lie in the fol­low­ing ranges:

  • For adult mod­er­ate­ly tanned peo­ple: L=60–80; A=10–20; B=14–25; the val­ue of B is always slight­ly greater than A;
  • For young chil­dren, blondes and red­heads (peo­ple with pinker skin): L=70–85; A=5–10; B=5–10; A and B may be equal, on the cheeks, ears and nose, A may be greater than B.

Let’s go back to the first image and look at the orig­i­nal and cor­rect­ed skin­tone through the prism of num­bers.

Left shot before: A is greater than B, both val­ues ​​are less than 5. Skin is pale pale pink. On the right, B is greater than A, the num­bers are in the right range — the skin is slight­ly tanned / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

skin, such as on the fore­head or chin. It is worth avoid­ing places that can blush from excite­ment or from heat. Also, do not take mea­sure­ments close to the glare — there the num­bers may be dis­tort­ed.

Okay, let’s say you checked your pho­to by num­bers and found that there is a prob­lem with skin col­or. Let’s say the same as in our orig­i­nal image from the com­par­i­son above. Now we will cor­rect the wrong skin­ton.

The first thing you need to under­stand for your­self: why the skin is pale / blue / green / red. The prob­lem may be in an incor­rect­ly set white bal­ance or in the nat­ur­al fea­tures of the per­son him­self. We will deal with these prob­lems in dif­fer­ent ways. We will also under­stand using the Lab num­bers.

Correcting skin tone with white balance

The eas­i­est way to check if a pho­to has the cor­rect white bal­ance is to look at the num­bers on some­thing that is def­i­nite­ly white.

These can be details of cloth­ing (if, for exam­ple, you remem­ber exact­ly that the main char­ac­ter in the frame is not in a bluish or pink dress, but in white. These can be, for exam­ple, posters or papers (paper is usu­al­ly white) or details inte­ri­or, a cof­fee cup in hand, or some­thing else.Sometimes dur­ing the shoot­ing, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er even specif­i­cal­ly gives the mod­el a piece of paper in the hands for one frame, in order to sim­pli­fy his work lat­er.

It is advis­able to choose to check as close as pos­si­ble to the main char­ac­ter. A cup in hand is more prefer­able than a poster on the wall behind your back, because dif­fer­ent light can fall on them.

Our num­bers show A=-2.3; B=-7; The blan­ket is quite notice­ably blue. And it should be white / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

The skin at the same time shows A=4; B=2.4. It’s also not yel­low enough. There­fore, we con­clude that the white bal­ance is incor­rect. It is too blue, which is typ­i­cal for a shot tak­en in sun­ny weath­er in the shade. We will cor­rect it by mak­ing it warmer.

To cor­rect the white bal­ance in Light­room, two WB slid­ers are used: Temp / Tem­per­a­ture and Tint / Hue / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Temp / Tem­per­a­ture is respon­si­ble for chang­ing para­me­ter B, Tint — for A. We will move them in the right direc­tion and con­stant­ly con­trol the Lab num­bers for the skin col­or on the girl’s fore­head. Once they look like the check dig­its list­ed above, you can stop.

Notice how the Lab num­bers and the Temp/Temperature and Tint/Tint val­ues ​​have changed / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

The Temp para­me­ter has increased from 7850 to 15250, the Tint para­me­ter has changed from +5 to +12. At the same time, A increased from 5 to 13.6, and B — from 0.6 to 16. In par­al­lel, you can check your­self — look at the num­bers on some­thing white. If they are close to zero, then the white bal­ance is exact­ly opti­mal.

Correcting skin color with HSL

The sec­ond tool that helps to work with skin­tone is HSL. We will use it for those shots where every­thing is in order with the white bal­ance, but the skin is still not the col­or that we want. This hap­pens, for exam­ple, when a per­son is nat­u­ral­ly very pale or, on the con­trary, red-faced. Or he turned very red from excite­ment or cold. This often hap­pens, for exam­ple, at win­ter shoot­ings or at wed­dings — when the bride is ner­vous. Or anoth­er option could be:

Judg­ing by the col­or of the teeth and clouds, the bal­ance is right now. How­ev­er, the girl’s skin shows A=18, B=9. It is more red than yel­low / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

And here we can’t just change the white bal­ance: if you take it to yel­low, it will spoil the col­or of straw­ber­ries and cher­ries. The berries will no longer look so juicy and beau­ti­ful.

We made the pic­ture warmer, now the skin tone is fine, but the whole pic­ture looks yel­low and the berries are mixed with the col­or of the face / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Let’s see what will offer on HSL. We scroll down the right col­umn and in the HSL col­umn and move the Orange slid­er to the right, and the Red slid­er to the left. The HSL tool in Light­room works on dif­fer­ent hues indi­vid­u­al­ly, not on the whole image.

Thus, we make the skin more yel­low, and straw­ber­ries — more red. Col­or diver­si­ty appears in the pic­ture, and the skin comes to the cor­rect col­or / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Regard­ing the cor­rect way to select a skin­tone, a lot of copies have been bro­ken. There are adher­ents of col­or cor­rec­tion “by eye” who believe that the cor­rect skin col­or is the one that a par­tic­u­lar pho­tog­ra­ph­er wants on a par­tic­u­lar shoot. The one that the pho­tog­ra­ph­er sees with his eyes dur­ing pro­cess­ing. There are adher­ents of accu­ra­cy who believe that there is only one cor­rect skin­tone and it is not worth flirt­ing with it. It can­not be said that both of them are very wrong.

Col­or cor­rec­tion and skin­tone selec­tion by num­bers are def­i­nite­ly worth prac­tic­ing:

- For begin­ners and every­one who is not sure that they can pick up skin col­or just by eye;

– Per­fec­tion­ists and fans of tech­ni­cal­i­ty;

– For those who have an unim­por­tant mon­i­tor. Cal­i­brat­ing mon­i­tors for pro­cess­ing is a sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tion. If you’re work­ing on a lap­top or a large mon­i­tor that has­n’t been (or nev­er) cal­i­brat­ed for a long time, it’s best to always check your­self against the num­bers.

The last point with cal­i­bra­tion is very impor­tant. In the illus­tra­tion below, on the left is how the author sees his pic­ture on an uncal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor, on the right is how oth­er peo­ple see it, for exam­ple, when they look from smart­phones.

And here even the ques­tion is not which col­or is bet­ter and which is worse, but that col­or cor­rec­tion becomes unman­age­able on a poor­ly cal­i­brat­ed mon­i­tor. If you want to take a pho­to that is on the right, but you get the one on the left, then some­thing is going wrong / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

There are cas­es when skin col­or should not be pulled to the ref­er­ence fig­ures. For exam­ple, if you are shoot­ing cre­ative­ly with col­ored light.

If a red lamp shines in the model’s face, and anoth­er green lamp shines on the side, then we are no longer talk­ing about any cor­rect skin­tone / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Also, skin­tone can be neglect­ed in the same cre­ative shoots, if you see that the nat­ur­al col­or of the skin destroys the over­all col­or har­mo­ny.

On the right, the skin is pro­nounced pink: A=17, B=9. On the left, the skin is stretched to the ref­er­ence fig­ures, but the mod­el looks sick­ly yel­low, and the pic­ture as a whole is less har­mo­nious / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

But here we step on the thin ice of obser­va­tion and the appro­pri­ate­ness of flirt­ing with skin col­or. Yes, and banal taste. In the sense that some­one likes such things and comes in, some­one prefers a more nat­ur­al skin col­or.

In any case, such things are best tak­en on if you are absolute­ly sure about the cal­i­bra­tion of your mon­i­tor. By the way, there is a good life hack: send the fin­ished pho­to to your smart­phone. This allows you to at least under­stand how the pic­ture will be seen by oth­er peo­ple who will watch it from a smart­phone — almost all phones are cal­i­brat­ed plus or minus the same way.

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