How does the Subject’s Skin-tone effect Your Lighting?

After opening my studio twenty-five years ago,  I had studied with photographers like Don Blair and Marty Richert as well as years of practice and self-study, so I felt confident in my lighting abilities.  I had learned the lighting ratios I liked the best (3 to 1 for non-diffused, 4 to 1 with diffusion on film), I had learned about stringing my lights to quickly set my lights, I thought I was all set for my new career.  Then a client walked into the studio which caused me to rethink what I had been taught.  This beautiful young lady was African-American and when she came in she ask me if I had photographed many people with very dark skin like her’s.  I didn’t know what to say, so I lied and said I had (the truth was in the smaller agricultural town I started my studio in there were not many African-American families, it was mostly Hispanic).  I ask her why she would ask me that, she explained that many of the times she or her family had been photographed the images never looked “Right” according to her.  As she continued to talk I got what she was saying, the images of her or her family with darker skin didn’t have the same look as the people on the studio walls with lighter skin.

The light bulb went off, a lighting ratio is established by metering, but that ratio has to change as the tone of the skin does and as many tones of skin as we have in this country, how will I ever know what ratio of light to use on which tone of skin!  This was the flaw in the lighting technique that no one told me (or anyone else in the class)  The 3 to 1, 4 to 1 lighting ratios were taught as a constant you could use for all situations. As I thought about it, wouldn’t very fair skin go from highlight to shadow much more gradually than very dark skin at the same lighting ratio.  As a matter lighting very fair skin about shadowing and having a large transition from high-light to shadow, while very dark skin is more about the luster on the skin and having more fill to keep the highlight from too quickly turning to deep shadow.

All of sudden I knew exactly what this young lady was talking about, but at the time this was the lighting technique that most photographers learned and one that was flawed when dealing with dark-skinned people.   At this moment, I decided to start using reflector for fill instead of flash.  With reflector what you see is what you get, as long as the lighting in your studio is from studio lighting only with no overheads.  The amount of a fill is proportional to whatever the light output is of your flash.  If it looks good with the modeling light, it will look good when the flash goes off!

What ever type of lighting you use, the tone of skin will change the lighting effect and you need to modify your lighting for each client and every shade of skin.  The only way to learn how to do this is practice and test your lighting with a variety of clients to perfect your lighting for every client and not just those that have an olive complexion or sun tanned.

THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SALE STUDIO LIGHTING DVD and OUTDOOR PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY DVD  both for $99.00 and we pay the shipping…….TWO DVD’S for only $99.00  Sale End Today so order NOW!


~ by jeffsmithbooks on November 28, 2010.

One Response to “How does the Subject’s Skin-tone effect Your Lighting?”

  1. When we started our online photo editing business, we got the same question from our customers. Luckily, we had a lot of samples featuring retouched models with various skin tones – from pale and freckled to very dark.

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