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Color Correcting Skin Tones

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  • Color Correcting Skin Tones

    Hi all,

    Some of you may have seen my post about male retouching a couple of days ago ("GQ Look")...this picture is from the same series. The colors were so weird and I've had a hell of a time trying to get the skin tones to look natural. In the end I went for a high contrast desaturated look ( which helped avoid the problem, though it still left me wondering how best to correct the image had I wanted to do something a bit more natural.

    Here's a link to the NEF (there are focus problems with this file but it exemplifies the color problem I encountered):

    Or try this if the above link is expired:

    I'm also posting a JPEG version exported from Lightroom to give you an idea of what things look like, in case you can't or don't wish to check out the NEF.

    A little background info...

    I've been thinking about make up and retouching a lot lately (in what ways does it make the retouch look better, easier, etc.) so I purchased some for myself. Makeup Forever is a line used for TV and photography and here I'm wearing their HD line, which was created for the demands of HDTV. I'm wearing a very thin layer here (along with a bit of translucent powder) "real life" it looks like a good match, though at least in the default ACR rendering, it's way too yellow/orange/gold. At the same time, the white background looks really blue. The two together make me want to vomit. ;-)

    I've tried setting the WB to the neutral background, though that warms everything way too much. Even when I mask the background and neutralize/lighten it, and attempt to correct the skin tones independently, I can't get anything decent.

    So I have to think that it's the make up (also, at least in this shot, I'm not using any colored gels, just speedlights, which I suppose might have a slightly variable color temperature). Maybe the flash reveals that my skin doesn't have gold undertones (if not, then would I want something pinker? bluer?) and the combination just makes the WB task too difficult?

    I guess then I have two questions...

    1. How could I have set up the shot differently so that the skin tones come out looking better? (For example, not wear make-up, use a different foundation, color correct using gels, etc.).

    2. What's the best way to get natural looking skin tones from this particular image? I tried using the CMYK formulas for skin tones (C 1/3 to 1/5 of Y, which should be 0-10 points higher than M) but that just looked too red.

    OK...I think that's it. Hope you're all doing well.

    Attached Files

  • #2
    Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

    I have the answer to number one

    1. Try not to mix lights - if you are using several different lights, try to use the same brand, same model of the lights. Mixing studio strobes with speedlights might introduce variations in light temperature.

    2. Try to use same light modifiers - If you are using softbox and umbrella, the light from the softbox will always come warmer.

    3. Always shoot a checkered card when you have all the lights set up. Afterwards, when you open the RAW file, It takes just a second to equalize any color casts in the shadows, highlights and midtones.

    I guess that's it. If I think of anything else, I'll let you know.



    Oh yes, and have your monitor calibrated via calibration hardware.


    • #3
      Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

      You could use gels to get the skin tone how you want it but honestly you are better off just having the work done in post. Because gelling a light will have a color cast overall.

      Originally posted by dcmcintosh79 View Post

      2. What's the best way to get natural looking skin tones from this particular image? I tried using the CMYK formulas for skin tones (C 1/3 to 1/5 of Y, which should be 0-10 points higher than M) but that just looked too red.
      So this is going to get into abit of color theory but it all depends on the volume of the ratio you use in each color. EG...

      CMY: 60% 80% 100%
      will be much darker than
      CMY: 30% 40% 50%

      Most optimal skin color is at
      CMY: 15% 20% 25%

      Use a solid color layer, mask it, set layer mode to color, apply where and as needed.


      • #4
        Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

        This was a quick one. just color corrected based on the background with a curves layer. cheers.
        Attached Files


        • #5
          Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

          Yes, here is my attempt to correct the color also based on the background, but i feel it look like a red as well but this is the corrected anyway.


          • #6
            Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

            can't get to the NEF file, but from the posted jpeg
            1) correct WB (too much C)
            2) go to CMYK
            3) add Levels, correct for each CMY start/end points
            Attached Files
            Last edited by ShadowLight; 11-19-2009, 01:57 PM.


            • #7
              Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

              I also do not think you need to go to extreme measures to get the lights the right color. If the are close, as they are with this RAW shot, it is easier and faster to tweak in the Camera RAW module. It took about 30 secs to adjust the Temperature sliders in Camera RAW using a neutral color and the eyedropper as a reference point. As for skin color, I always set the 2nd eyedropper in the info palette to LAB mode and use the LAB values in the A and B channels to determine the best skin color - way better and faster than CMYK or RGB numbers.
              Regards, Murray
              Attached Files


              • #8
                Re: Color Correcting Skin Tones

                I think buso got it right. I'd be 20 nickels to a dollar that you used a modifier on the front light but not on the back. You can always assume a light through a softbox or umbrella will warm the light.

                If you live near a photo rental shop rent yourself a Minolta color meter for a day and test your lights at various power outputs ad through various modifiers. High quality lights like Elincrom, Profoto, Broncolor, etc, will be much more consistent throughout their output range. Dynalights, Speedotrons, etc, less so.

                When you find that your lights are more than 50-100 degrees kelvin apart from each other you might want to start putting warming/cooling gels on them to bring them into line with each other.

                The makeup looks fine.

                The post processing solution is to mask your foreground from your background so you can color correct them toward each other. You are in effect putting the gels on the lights after the fact.