DPP Home Technique Camera Technique Dialing In Skin Tone

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dialing In Skin Tone

A wedding professional has some sage advice and techniques for mastering elusive skin tones

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Schloss Getting skin tones right is critical. When you’re shooting, you can be sure your tones are good by using the D-SLR’s histogram in Luminance mode. You can see that although the histogram is stacked to the left due to the dark background and the dramatic lighting, the midtones, where skin is represented, are looking good. This is a tricky image to evaluate with the histogram.
For fashion, beauty, portrait and wedding photographers, the advent of digital photography has been a godsend. For wedding and portrait photographers, in particular, digital has enabled many professionals to increase productivity, thanks to faster turnaround times and greater flexibility. By reducing the time to delivery, digital photography has allowed the wedding photographer to capture the bride and groom’s desire for immediate fulfillment (pun intended) and sell more images while the event is fresh in the mind. Others have turned to on-site delivery, cranking out proofs and takeaway prints for guests, capturing a market that would have been impossible with traditional film photography.

But for all the power digital has to transform a business, the technology requires a greater degree of mastery, digitally speaking. Because of the way that digital sensors create their images, the resulting photographs can lack a large portion of the tonal range that their film forefathers would have easily recorded.

For the wedding photographer—where capturing every subtle nuance in a lightly colored wedding dress while still picking up the details of the piping on a tuxedo is crucial—understanding how best to craft an image for the digital medium is key. It’s important to understand not only how digital cameras differ from film in terms of image capture, but also how to best set up a shot to capture the greatest range of tones.

Bits Of Buckets
Every photograph, be it from film or a digital sensor, has a certain range of tones that can be produced, and the distribution of lights to darks is called dynamic range, which is commonly expressed in ƒ-stops. A typical piece of print film may yield a 10-stop dynamic range, while many digital cameras capture only around four stops of tone between the lightest and the darkest regions of the image, with anything outside those four stops resulting in the image being clipped to white or dark. (One of the selling points of medium-format digital backs is that they boast dynamic range up to 12 stops, which is why they’re so often used in high-end portrait work.)

High-school physics classes introduced the idea that light acts both as a wave and as a particle. It’s the particle properties of light that are important to the wedding photographer. Across the face of a digital sensor are light-gathering areas that work like little buckets, gathering up the incoming photons. If the bucket is empty, the region is black; half-full, and it’s a midtone; and if completely full, it’s white.


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