Skin tones come in such a wide variety of shades and undertones that it is almost impossible for a one-size-fits-all approach in photography. In this tutorial, we will cover the best techniques for photographing and editing DARKER SKIN TONES.
- First, I will share some tips for photographing dark skin tones.
- Then I will show you how to edit and use presets on darker skin tones in Lightroom for best results!
Photography Tips for Darker Skin Tones
Achieving a beautiful image when you are photographing an individual(s) with darker skin tones starts with your settings in-camera. In many ways, these tips work for all skin tones, but the exposure you choose may be slightly different based on the skin you are photographing.
The first part of achieving a beautiful image when photographing dark skin tones is how you photograph them in camera. In many ways, these tips work for all skin tones but the exposure you choose may be slightly different based on the skin you are photographing.
Tip #1. Expose for the Skin
Exposing for skin is a tip that applies for ALL skin tones, but it is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT for darker skin tones!
Use spot metering on your camera and then adjust your camera settings while taking readings from the skin tones. This will keep you from over exposing skin. And if you properly expose for the skin, the other elements of your photograph will follow accordingly.
Tip #2. Photographing Dark and Light Skin Together
If you are photographing a couple, family, or group that includes BOTH light and dark skin tones, expose for the middle ground and then adjust for any differences in post-processing.
This will keep you from over-exposing the lightest skin tones and allow you to lower the exposure as necessary for the darker skin tones.
Tip #3. Be Aware of Strong Contrast
Anytime you are photographing harsh contrast in an image, getting them both exposed properly can be a challenge. Just like how wedding photos can be a challenge for the same reason - because of the black and white clothing.
You may want to consider asking clients with darker skin tones to avoid white clothing to help avoid any extreme contrast that may occur.
And when you can't avoid strong contrast, be extra aware of your exposure at ALL TIMES. Work to protect your highlights and properly expose the skin tones.
Best Presets & How to Edit Dark Skin Tones in Lightroom
The next part of achieving beautiful dark skin tones is how you edit them in post-processing.
Currently, there is a popular trend toward warm, dark tones in images. This effect will show up much more strongly in the shadowed areas of an image. Dark skin has more shadow and therefore can be more susceptible to picking up those tones, so keep that in mind when editing in Lightroom.
Best Lightroom Presets for Dark Skin Tones
As you can see from the images in this tutorial, there are some favorite Lightroom preset collections that work very well with darker skin tones.
The TOP favorite preset collections for darker skin are:
- The Clean Edit Portrait Workflow
- The Dark and Moody Millennium Collection
- The Pretty Film Bohemian Collection
Editing Step #1. Apply Lightroom Presets and Adjust Skin Tones
When editing darker skin tones in Lightroom, I generally apply my favorite preset first, then set my white balance and adjust exposure.
If you have done this already and your skin tones still do not look right, you can review the values under the Histogram panel to evaluate if your skin tones fall within their proper range. The info below will help you do this:
All skin tones, no matter their color can be assessed by the numbers in the Histogram Panel. To do this, place your mouse over the skin tones of your image in Lightroom. You will see the RGB values appear under the Histogram.
- Blue should always be the lowest number.
- Red should be the highest number.
- Green should fall somewhere in the middle.
- If the blue number is higher than the green or red value, then you know your skin tones are too cool and need some warmth added.
If your skin tones follow the rules above, you will know your skin tone color is within its proper range.
Editing Step #2. Make Use of the HSL Panel
Even after making the above adjustments, you may still notice that a certain color is showing too prominently on the skin. The HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance)/Color Panel can help you to correct this.
Orange is one of the colors that frequently pops up as an issue with darker skin tones and the HSL/Color Panel gives you the ability to control that specific color in an image.
Hue controls the color tone in an image. For instance, hue can adjust whether your green values are more on the yellow side of green or the blue side of green. Hue can also control whether the orange tones lean more toward red or yellow.
Saturation controls how saturated a color appears in an image:
- When a color has no saturation it will appear as more of a gray tone.
- And when a color is fully saturated it will often appear quite extreme.
Lowering the saturation of the orange tones slightly may help eliminate a color cast from appearing on skin. Be aware that orange is made up of red AND yellow, so those sliders may need to be adjusted as well.
Also, keep in mind that any adjustments to the saturation sliders should be very small in order to prevent the skin from looking gray and lifeless.
Luminance controls how light or dark a color appears in an image. For example:
- Adjusting the red luminance slider toward the right will lighten the red tones in your image
- Adjusting the red luminance slider towards the left will darken the red tones.
- The same applies for all the other Luminance sliders.
Often, when trying to adjust color in skin tones, I PREFER using the Luminance sliders in the HSL panel to all the others.
By simply adjusting the red, orange, and yellow sliders to the right, I can lighten those tones in my image. And if those adjustments don't help enough, I will move over to the Saturation part of the panel to make slight adjustments there.
Editing Step #3. Use the Targeted Adjustment Tool to Take the Guess-Work Out of the HSL Panel
I realize, the above information can seem a little overwhelming. The Targeted Adjustment Tool in Lightroom can help with that. Instead of guessing which sliders need to be adjusted to reduce a certain color, this tool will read the colors and move the sliders as necessary.
To use this tool, open the HSL/Color panel and click the small circle icon in the upper left of the panel you want to target (Hue, Saturation, or Luminance). When activated you will see an arrow on the top and bottom of the circle icon.
Let's pretend we want to lighten the orange tones in an image using the Targeted Adjustment Tool in Luminance section of the HSL panel.
Once the tool is activated, move over to the image and click on a part of the skin tone that you think has too much color. Then click and drag upward - the color will begin to lighten.
And if we want to decrease the saturation slightly, activate the Targeted Adjustment Tool in the Saturation section and then click and drag down on the same section of skin to decrease the saturation.
Editing dark skin can be tricky, but first understanding how to expose for dark skin properly and then knowing how to best edit those images using presets and the HSL/Color panel can be super helpful in achieving beautiful skin tones in Lightroom and an amazing final image!
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