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Photographing darker skin tones...

Rochelle Negle , Dec 01, 2008; 02:42 p.m.

So I'm still new to photography and I have a session scheduled with a lovely family.

They have dark skin (African American)

and was wondering what kind of tips you can give me and wardrobe suggestions?


Charles Heckel , Dec 01, 2008; 04:17 p.m.

Dark skin shouldn't make much difference in itself--in mixed group shots you want darker complexions closer to the light, and washed-out Nordics further from it. There may be enough range of complexion in the family that you will need to provide for it. A second consideration is lighting ratio--reflective skin handles a greater lighting ratio without losing detail in the shadows, and you may prefer 3:1 or 2:1 for darker skin.

Contrariwise, darker skin seems to pick up less of the hues of saturated colors, enabling dark-complected people to wear quite bright colors without looking cyanotic, jaundiced, or rosaceate. If you don't discuss the issue of coordinating or subduing colors to keep attention on the faces ahead of time, you may be faced with quite a melange at the shoot.

Tom Watt , Dec 01, 2008; 08:49 p.m.

Just before you shoot, I would recommend that you have anyone with oily skin blot their face gently to help cut down on the sheen (have a box of Kleenex handy, and just do it casually... it always worked for me). That trick plus metering carefully usually got me through just fine - I used to photograph soldiers as a matter of routine, and frequently got feedback from African-Americans how much they appreciated that I'd actually gotten a decent photo of them.

Robert Budding , Dec 02, 2008; 06:34 a.m.

An incident or flash meter will provide accurate exposure readings. If you're relying on reflective metering, just remember that the meter will place objects as middle gray. So compensate from there based on the subject's skin tone. Or meter off of a gray card and use manual exposure.

Anthony Stubbs , Dec 02, 2008; 10:07 p.m.

Bruce Stenman , Dec 08, 2008; 07:29 p.m.

Silver reflectors also help with dark skinned individuals to provide speculars/highlights, or the opposite of what you would be doing with very light skin individuals.
For wardrobes I would avoid white tops with the women as it focuses attention on the hard line between the neckline and the neck which is seldom flattering. A white blouse with a collar and open in a V shape on the other hand will not be a problem.

Terry Thomas , Dec 17, 2008; 04:31 p.m.

I tell ALL my subjects beforehand to not wear white as it tends to overexpose.
I disagree with Bruce about using a silver reflector. I was photographing about 60 corporate portaits and just prior had purchased one of those 5-in-1 reflectors. So I used the usual silver on everyone but also experimented with the gold side on the African-American subjects. It made their skin *glow*. OMG! They loved the results. When I compared the gold to silver the later was rather cold looking. Wow did I learn something new.
45 years a photographer and I'm still learning...
Terry Thomas...
the photographer
Atlanta, Georgia USA

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