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Color Contamination

Lesson 4 from: How to Photograph and Flatter Skin Tones

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

4. Color Contamination

Lesson Info

Color Contamination

Number three is color contamination. So this is one that plagued me for a long time. So here's my story about this. I was shooting in my very first studio. I had a really small studio. It was like 10 feet wide or so, eight foot ceilings, maybe 12 or 15 foot deep, something like that. And overhead in my studio I had fluorescent lights. And I didn't know how studio lighting works, I didn't know this whole thing. I didn't know, I was once told that shutter speed doesn't matter with studio lighting, so I just didn't pay attention to it. And so I was shooting at a slow shutter speed, and if you know anything about studio lighting what happens is that slow shutter speeds let in ambient light. So it lets in, if you have a window light or if you have tungsten light overhead, like that slow shutter speed lets that other light show up instead of just your strobe. So what happened is I'm shooting in this small space, and I used to blame my lab. And I'd go, "ugh, I need to switch my printing lab. ...

The shadows are always so green." And it was because my slow shutter speed was allowing the fluorescent light to show up. And so you have to be aware of what's contaminating the colors in your photos. So I'm gonna show you exactly what this means and so you can watch out for it yourself. And this is why, if you've ever heard anything about sync speed, that's why you wanna pay attention to it. So I'm gonna actually demonstrate and show you this. But there's more ways that color can contaminate the skin than just mixed light or just light showing up in your space. I'm gonna show you those. And here's a big one. I'm sure many of you have encountered is you do a portrait out in the field or in the, in the, in an open grassy area and you get the pictures back and their skin is green and yellow. Because what happens is, on a sunny day there are a lot of natural reflectors. And I talk about this, is when I'm trying to take portraits of people I look for large white surfaces hit by the sun. Like big white walls that the sun hits, because then it bounces and it gives me beautiful light. I look for, like, a side of a moving van, if that's white bouncing light, it just creates a huge soft light source. But the fun is doing that all the time whether there's a white surface there or not. And so the big surface that might be around your subject might be a huge green field. And what happens is the light, the sun hits that field and bounces back and lights your subject. And all of a sudden they have all this green under light underneath their chin, underneath their nose, and in their eyes. And so I've, I have a million family portraits that I took before I knew about that whole thing and I thought, "Oh I guess there's no way to get rid of it." There are a couple ways to get rid of it. This is what the scene looked like. We were shooting, got a lot of the light bouncing off the ground where these students are, filling in the shadows on her face. So that's why if you look, in the pockets in her eyes it's green, underneath her nose it's green, underneath her neck it's green. So one of the things I could've done, is just move her. It doesn't mean that she can't still be standing on the grass, but the area that's bouncing in front of her maybe there's a sidewalk nearby or like, gray concrete, something that I can move her up to the edge of, and then the thing that's bouncing is neutral. So I'm lookin' for things like that. But in this case one of the things you have to do is fill in the shadows with not green light. So even though you're thinking it's a bright sunny day, if she's getting a lot of fill from that green I would need to add a speed light, or I do need to add a strobe. Because that speed light or strobe is going to fill on those shadows with correct light, not green. So, you know even just between these two, now she lost that green color cast. And so this was nothing more than a plain bare strobe filling in the shadows. It's not actually how I recommended you light someone with bare strobe, we're gonna talk about that with modifier choice, but, at least I saved a lot of that green that was showing up there. And so when I go to an environment to shoot somebody I'm always paying attention to what other light is bouncing. For example, if you say you do family portraits and you do family portraits in the family's home. And you put them over here against this wall or sitting on this couch and this wall right here is a beautiful teal wall. They painted their wall teal. And you've got over on this side, a nice big soft box. That soft box is hitting the family, but it's also bouncing off the teal wall and filling in their shadows making it teal. Whatever the light bounces off of, it picks up those characteristics. So everywhere I am, I'm taking a look of where I'm placing my subject. Is the light bouncing in a way that's going to be unflattering? So to give you another example of the green grass, she's got some green underneath her chin, green on her forehead, and so you don't have to have a studio strobe. You can also just use a reflector. So in the first shot I had a pro photo be one. And the studio strobe was used to overpower that green. But not everybody likes to shoot with strobes on location, or maybe you don't wanna carry the gear so in this case because she's back lit, I can take a silver reflector, catch the sunlight and use that to fill in all the green shadows. And now it's fixed. It's much better, much better direction and quality of light on her face but also, cuttin' out that green contamination on her skin. So if you're shooting in a public park or you're shooting in an area with a lot of green, try to move them away from any of the green that's reflecting. Get them near the end of the grass, or near a parking lot, or, pop in a reflector if they're backlit, or, pop in a strobe if you can't catch the light to fill in. All right so here's another example. I'm shooting this girl on the high line. It's an elevated park in New York City. In the first picture I take the skin on the left hand side is pink and red. And the reason is, is that look, and over on the left hand side the building is painted pink and red, and so it's a giant reflector, even if it's not my reflector it's a reflector in the scene. And so all I did was move her forward maybe 10 feet, and in 10 feet that's not bouncing there anymore. So I'm always analyzing the environment and trying to change these things. But, sometimes the things that are reflecting are super not obvious. You checked for the walls, you checked for the green grass, but in this example, watch the left hand side of her face. The light is bouncing off of the reflector underneath her chin but also off of my assistant's shirt. So in this one it's kinda pinkish orange, watch the shadows in this one, now it's darker. Because it's not reflecting light, it's like a negative reflector. Now it's blue. So it's like these little things that I just don't necessarily pay attention to. This becomes particularly emphasized in small spaces. Because in small spaces, that colored wall or that shirt or whatever it is right here, is gonna bounce light that much more quickly and fill in the shadows, so add these things all to your list to watch out for. The other one, and I'm sure you've run into this, is actually going to be her shirt. So have you seen this? You take a picture and then they've got a weird color casting underneath her jawline? It's from her shirt bouncing up. There isn't a way to fix that, I mean it's, it's, if you are lighting the subject and she's got a bright colored shirt and your light's at a high angle, it bounces off the shirt, fills in underneath the chin. And so, there's a way to fix it in post, or she has to change her shirt. Or you could technically kind of change the direction of light, or if you fill in the shadows you can overpower that color but maybe you liked the shadows. These are all things I'm kinda considering for color. All right, so, let me pause before I move on to the next thing for color contamination. So, so far what we've talked about, things you've gotta check off when you're considering good skin. First one is do I have my white balance under control? Not auto, do a preset but also get your gray card. And the next one is mixed lighting situations, just avoid it. Like pick which light you wanna go with, or turn off the light that's mixed, and then the next one watch for stuff bouncing around in your environment. The grass or the wall or a shirt, or the person's shirt, kinda check those things off to make sure the skin looks good. The next one, is the one that I actually said in the introduction of this section for color contamination. And so what I mean by that is, unwanted ambient light. So, if you are shooting with studio strobes, and you have some other light that's not studio strobes showing up in your shot, so I'm gonna show you what this looks like. And what it usually does is it makes your shadows have a weird color. Maybe a little bit warm, maybe a little bit cool, and so in this particular demo, on the left hand side of my subject I have a tungsten hot light, so it's really yellow light. And this is not what you would actually do but I'm using this is as a demo, and imagine that you're shooting a subject, you're shooting on a desk and there's a tungsten lamp right next to them. Something like that. Or, you're shooting a portrait of them and there's some other light source in the room that's really strong. So this also would happen in a reception, sometimes in a reception hall I'm shooting and I had them stand in the hallway and they're right under one of those overhead lights and yeah, I use flash but you're still gonna see it on the face. So, here's what, you wanna pay attention to. These shots have no studio strobe firing. Kay, the strobe isn't on. All I'm changing are my camera settings. And specifically what I'm changing is I'm changing my shutter speed. So in the first shot, I am at or near my camera's sync speed so you wanna go look up what your camera's sync speed is. The reason you're trying to shoot out of your camera's sync speed when you're using flash is because it cuts out ambient light. That's the idea, if you don't want this to show up, shoot a higher shutter speed. Most sync speeds are somewhere around 1/200 of a second, 1/250, somewhere around there. So in the first shot, when I shoot at my camera's sync speed I see almost nothing from that tungsten light that was on the left. But then, I go a little bit lower, a 60th, definitely seeing a photo. Then a little bit slower shutter speed, 1/30 of a second, and I have a full photo of this girl in yellow. Okay well here's what's actually happening behind the scenes then, when you're using a strobe. So you might not have a trained eye to notice it, and maybe you didn't notice you're shooting at a 30th or a 60th of a second, and you're not realizing that that light is showing up in the shadows because you're shooting with a slower shutter speed. So if you are shooting in a controlled studio space, you wanna go ahead and use a faster sync speed, make sure the window light and the tungsten light, like all of that gets cut out. But, let's say you're shooting at the reception and they spent a lot of money on the lights in the background and the decorations. You don't wanna cut out the all of the ambient light because they paid for that ambient light to be there, like they made that set. So what you need to do, is you would shoot at a slower shutter speed to let that show through but you gotta move the subject so that tungsten light or whatever light is in the scene isn't on them. So I can move them out of that overhead tungsten light in the hallway at the reception, move them forward so there's no light on them, and then I don't have to worry about my longer shutter speed. So I gotta pay attention to where I put them and what light's in the space. So in my studio if you watch me I'm shooting one 1/60th of a second, or 1/200th of a second trying to cut out any unwanted ambient light. So, one more time just to take a look at it here's at a 60th of a second and here's at 1/200 of a second. And so even just going down a little bit makes a difference to the colors of the skin in your scene.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Skin Tones Keynote

Ratings and Reviews

Amy Vaughn

The topic is too big to cover all the solutions in depth in such a short amount of time, but this seems like a great overview for beginners to understand the range of problems with making skin look good in photos. Lindsay does a great job of making her class topics easy to understand.

Frank Gutierrez

I just love Lindsay's work! It's so impressive; especially the sampling photos captured of the elderly gentleman. It brought all she taught throughout the video together seamlessly! I'm so going to watch this over and over again!


Great primer on skin tones, lighting, and considerations for different types of skin. One of the few teachers that discusses dark skin tones!

Student Work