If you are a professional photographer, you will understand that nothing spoils a nice portrait like unnatural skin tones and odd color casts. Every photographer has that moment when you are called to take a photo, only to discover you will need a magic to blend the colors or accommodate various skin tones of your models nicely in a single photo.
If you have been following my blog, you will discover that I'm a huge fan of getting everything right from the start. In my opinion, this will help you having to avoid fixing too many things later during post-processing. In this article, you will some tricks to make your photography better and get those natural skin tones in your portrait without stressing too much.
Alright, let's get started:
7 Steps to Achieve Natural Skin Tones in Your Portrait
1. Shoot in RAW
We can never over-emphasis how you can achieve most things in digital photography simply by shooting raw files. It is also the best way to get natural skin tones in your portrait. The great thing with raw files is that they retain a lot of data that you can work with at the post-processing stage. You won't get this amount of data when you shot in JPEGs. Hence, raw files offer you more flexibility.
2. Get Away from Bright Light
Yeah, we know good lighting is essential for good photo but the bright ones are killer. Stay away from bright light. You can shoot early in the morning or in the evening when the sun is about to go down thereby casting it golden rays in your shot; these two periods are my favorite. When it becomes absolutely must that you have to shoot in afternoon, try and find shaded areas so there won't be any competition between your subject and the natural light.
3. Find the Right Exposure
Understand different skin requirements for a better exposure. When working with a Caucasian skin, it is best to overexpose the skin a little so it will look smoother. For a model with a darker skin complexion, expose for the face. Once you get the face right in case of darker complexion model, the rest of the image will fall into place.
4. Use Mid-Range When Photographing Two Models of Different Skin Tones
If you are going to have two models of different skin tones in one photo, you should use mid-range and adjust the rest during post-processing. You will need to ensure that the light model is not too light and dark model is not too dark either. In case where the light model is too light, it means you have a case of blown highlights and this cannot be fixed during post-processing. On the other hand, you might find yourself with the problem of too much digital noise if the dark model is too dark and you try to adjust in post processing.
5. Get the Correct White Balance in Camera
To achieve that natural skin tone, you should ensure you have a correct white balance in your camera. When you are shooting with dSLR, you have plenty of options on how to achieve white balance. One option is to use white balance card to set a custom white balance, another way is to set the temperature to approximately match the Kelvin temperature in the scene. Set your camera to the closest preset you have in your camera if it doesn't allow for custom white balance.
6. Find the Right Light
You will need a good light source if you want to get good portrait and that elusive natural skin tone as a bonus. Natural light will save you time trying to tweak skin tones in our raw files.
I recommend you stay away from harsh, direct sunlight when you are shooting outdoors. You will get more even illuminations when you use softer light. Additionally, be careful not to create strong highlights and deep shadows on the face of your subject. On the other hand, do not shoot in depths of shadow, since the light levels are likely going to be low. The alternative is to shoot at the edge of shadow, few steps away from the bright sunlight.