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04-30-2011, 12:47 PM   #1
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What's the best way to photograph dark skin?

In full sun at a track meet so I can't use a flash or reflector or anything like that. Shooting raw helped because I could up the highlights but other than that many of the black athletes had almost no facial features because they were so unexposed. How do you photograph dark skin without blowing out highlights be metering off the face and opening up too much?

04-30-2011, 01:09 PM   #2
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I don't have first hand experience with darker skin tones. But my family has asian skin tones and I've noticed that Kodak Portra 160VC does skin tones extremely well. I did a search on Flickr and found some examples:

Basquiat | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Un Mauricien avec un cigare cubain | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Portra 160VC - Lisa e Seba 19 (nikkor 55-1.2) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
21120031 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
The Usual Suspect | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
self | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

I realize that these are mostly portraits. Sporting event lighting and distance will be different. But I think it is worth a try. Portra is a great film for taking photos of humans.

Find a cheap Spotmatic, use your M42 lenses, see how it develops.
04-30-2011, 01:17 PM   #3
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If the subject is so much darker than the surrounding area, you're pretty much SOL. You need to expose for light or expose for dark. Just like landscapes... only with landscapes you have the option of HDR or using ND filters.

So you live with it, or...

Get a camera that has a wider dynamic range. The K5 is pretty mazing if you expose for the highlights.
Is the Kx similar with DR as it is with its noise handling?
The darker subjects will appear far too black on the LCD to be worth while, but once at home you can recover those areas with fill light adjustments and get a pretty decent image in many cases.
Of course medium format cameras have some better dynamic range, as do the RED cameras. :-) (don't know how good either is for sports, but I wouldn't turn down a RED camera if it were handed to me)


Move to take the photos where the difference in light is not so great.. under a shaded area. (open track? good luck, sorry) Or at least keep the sun behind you so everything is lit up and balanced as much as possible and you're not shooting shadowed faces.


Zoom in so that you limit the background area to something that won't blow out so much.
Zooming in with a wide open aperture can also blur the background to an extent that if its blown out a bit, it probably won't matter. Sadly, I don't know where you'll get a 400mm f2.8 for Pentax nowadays.


I have not shot in such situations, but the above are just somewhat common sense stuff that should help in any situation.
04-30-2011, 03:13 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by amoringello Quote
...
Of course medium format cameras have some better dynamic range, as do the RED cameras. :-) (don't know how good either is for sports, but I wouldn't turn down a RED camera if it were handed to me).
What's a RED camera?

04-30-2011, 04:10 PM   #5
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High end digital video cameras.
WELCOME TO RED.COM

QuoteQuote:
... capture up to 120 frames per second, each frame at full 14MP resolution. EPIC is engineered to be a DSMC™ (Digital Still & Motion Camera), a camera that excels in both worlds ... by design. Providing native dynamic range of over 13 stops and resolution that exceeds 35 mm motion picture film, this is the camera of the epoch. Add to that RED's newly developed HDRx™ extended dynamic range technology and EPIC boasts an amazing dynamic range of up to 18 stops...
04-30-2011, 04:28 PM   #6
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Yep.
Amoringello's right.
You need to have the right kind of light for darker-skinned subjects.
Full sun lighting will just not do it for you, nor does it flatter any other kind of subject.
So, take your subject into the shade and eliminate any background highlights the sun produces and you may find a more balanced exposure.

Generally I still use centre or matrix metering (not spot) since I don't want the face to be overexposed and blow out anything else not dark in the frame. I have gotten good results in this regard with all cameras I've used, not just my K-5. An example with the K20D:


...but as you can see the clothing was still clipped in the highlights by virtue of the high contrast between the skin and the white apparel. The K-5 would have done a better job of this portrait, especially at ISO 80 or 100.

Last edited by Ash; 04-30-2011 at 04:33 PM.
05-01-2011, 07:57 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by justtakingpics Quote
In full sun at a track meet so I can't use a flash or reflector or anything like that. Shooting raw helped because I could up the highlights but other than that many of the black athletes had almost no facial features because they were so unexposed. How do you photograph dark skin without blowing out highlights be metering off the face and opening up too much?
you are best to get a ambient light/flash meter which will measure how much light is falling on the subject, not how much is reflected.

cheers
05-01-2011, 08:01 AM   #8
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while the best method may be an incident reading light meter, you probably don't just have one in your bag.

the next best thing is to "make one" by using a medium grey surface and meter off that. Assuming it is in the same condition (light wise) as the subject, then it will get the tone of the subject about right. do a test shot or two, in advance and then adjust as needed. shoot full manual for this.

05-01-2011, 10:23 AM   #9
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Shoot B&W with center weighted metering or spot if you have mastered its idiosyncrasies. B&W is more forgiving, And shooting RAW + JPEG gives you more leeway in PP.
With the sun behind me I shoot dark skinned people in color using spot focus on the eye and then adjust the exposure by -.3 EV. Shoot in exposure bracket mode for additional safety.
05-01-2011, 10:23 AM   #10
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Learn how to use a selection tool very well and if all else fails try to save things in PP...:-(
05-01-2011, 10:25 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by justtakingpics Quote
In full sun at a track meet so I can't use a flash or reflector or anything like that. Shooting raw helped because I could up the highlights but other than that many of the black athletes had almost no facial features because they were so unexposed. How do you photograph dark skin without blowing out highlights be metering off the face and opening up too much?
Use a K-5 and shoot in RAW, everything will be fine.
05-05-2011, 05:37 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by JohnBee Quote
Use a K-5 and shoot in RAW, everything will be fine.
Good advise! but don't go and buy the K5 if you don't have it, just for this shoot ;-)

I would listen to Ash and Amoringello ;-)
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