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