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Lighting for Different Skin Colors


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#1 EricUlbrich

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 05:08 AM

Hello,
I am currently beginning production on a thesis film that has an entirely African American Cast. I have heard that due to the dark pigment of the skin, it reacts differently to lighting condidions and an adjustment must be made. If anybody can clear the air on this situation I would be in great debt. Thanks again!
Cheers,
Eric U.
Cinematographer/Gaffer
http://www.ericulbrich.com
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#2 Matt Pacini

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Posted 10 April 2006 - 04:50 PM

Black skin tends to absorb wamr colors and appear more with a bluish cast.
So light a bit on the warm side.
And absolutely avoid white clothing, or even really light clothing, especially if you're shooting on anything but film.
You will either have dark, dark skin, or the light colors will blow out.

MP
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#3 Don Bachmeier

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 07:52 AM

Matt's advice on using warmer light and avoiding light clothing are good. Avoiding brightly colored backgrounds helps too. Anything to bring the contrast range of the shot closer to what the film or camera can handle. Using large sources close in, just out of the frame, help a lot. Softboxes, diffusion frames, etc. They don't necessarily have to be bright. Realize that the skin tone is actually dark and try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of blasting in light to try to make it lighter. Don't forget to consider the option of cutting light from brighter parts of the scene.
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#4 isaac_klotz

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 04:07 AM

you may want to try a little extra back light as well.
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#5 timHealy

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 06:30 AM

I hope I don't offend anyone and perhaps a bit off the question but on target with the thread title, but I always find the discussion of people of african descent and photography somewhat politcally incorrect. In the sense that we all have, no matter where we are from, a variety of colors and skin tones within racial groups. I am of Irish origins and have a somewhat fair skin but not as white as others from Ireland. People of african descent have a variety of skin tones from very light to very dark so there is no one answer to this question of exposure. I had a girlfriend once of Spanish descent who had a dark skin tone for a caucasion group but very close to the skin tone of a person of color (that is a black american for those abroad) with a light skin tone for their group.

Perhaps I am being overly sensitive or just talking crap. But I live in NYC in a very diverse area where sooner than later, caucasions will be in the minority. What are your thoughts?

Best

Tim

Edited by heel_e, 21 April 2006 - 06:35 AM.

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#6 isaac_klotz

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 02:58 PM

i dont see this as a political issue. would discussion about lighting the lead female talent be sexist?

also, there are other threads about this same topic which have some great recommendations and techniques to try.
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#7 Michael Collier

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 01:08 AM

I have always thought it was racist not to take into consideration skin tone. Yes there are other races with similar tones. yes black people do vary in actual tint. But at least these people have an interest in making them look good. I look back to old black and white films of the 30s and 40s and I cant find one good example of lighting for african americans.


I live in alaska and any chance I get to film an african american actor I look forward too, becuase I dont get a whole lot of opppourtunity, given our population. Skin color doesnt matter until you want to photograph it. then what harm is there in exploring the differences that ultamatley lead to equivalent looks on both actors?

(or to put another way, would you want all you hard work emoting and acting wasted because the DP refused to learn or explore the options when photographing a darker skinned individual.)
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#8 timHealy

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 12:38 PM

I'm sorry but I think you missed my point. Perhaps through an online forum some of my meaning in just the type written word is getting lost.

I just find it narrow minded when someone asks how do I light black people? There are just so many races out there where people have darker skins tones than someone who is of northern european origin. It also sounds like some assume there is one skin tone for black people. I'm just saying that perhaps the question that should be asked is how do i light someone with really dark skin tones and complexion? Or how do i light moderately dark skin tones of aboriginals in Austrailia or latinos in Cuba? how do i light the really fair skin of an irish guy who looks like he has never seen the sun?

"would you want all you hard work emoting and acting wasted because the DP refused to learn or explore the options when photographing a darker skinned individual?"

I am not sure how you got the idea that I was trying to suggest one shouldn't take in to account skin tone. I am just saying (and asking everyones thought) that I think it would be more articulate if we as cinematographers talked about skin tones instead of races.

I don't know, perhaps it is just my own personal pet peeve when some asks "how do i light black people?"

Best

Tim
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#9 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 05:01 PM

I don't know, perhaps it is just my own personal pet peeve when some asks "how do i light black people?"




i agree, it always sounds pretty retardo whenever i hear someone say these exact words, because it implies that all other human beings fit nicely into the "light normally for good exposures"category while anyone black is so diferent in skintone that they require a completely different technique.
...

exposing for different skintones is really no different than doing so for different shades of wardrobe-- if there's a particularly dark shirt/face or a particularly bright shirt/face, then you simply have to meter it and make sure that it's not going to show up darker/lighter than you want it to. like others mentioned, it's unwise to put a white shirt on a very dark-skinned actor, nor should you put a black shirt on a very fair-skinned actor.

three techniques i've used for actors with unusually dark skin is..

to use warmer light-- skin has more red content that other colors, and colored light will effectively increase the relative luminance of anything in the same hue, or rather it's probably more accurate to say that colored light decreases the luminance of colors dissimilar to its color. you could use warm filtration for the same effect.

avoid hard sources, or use more ambient/fill to ensure you don't lose the shadows.

use powder to keep the shine down. a lot of natural shine on dark skin will create a kind of "perceptual darkness" in their skin, simply because of the visual contrast of the specular highlights of the shine in relation to thier skintone.


often people talk of "keeping the blue out" of darker skin. you see this very often in news/doc stuff shot in africa, outdoors. this is usually just the result of the sky/skylight reflecting off the skin. powder will often help with this. this goes hand in hand with another principle in lighting dark skin/dark objects that came up in an earlier thread that i've pasted in below.

hope this helps,
jaan

----

other than the simple difference in luminance, the only thing to really consider is that any dark surface with considerable shininess will reflect light sources & color much more than a lighter-colored object of the same shininess (like the difference in shooting a grey car and a black car-- the black car will reflect your lights, rigging, skyline, etc. more apparently). this is something to keep in mind if you will be using little/no or sheen-inducing makeup.

this color reflectence is also a common technique used for lighting darker skinned subjects, particularly in fashion photography. there is a photographer in particular who was known for heavily using such technique, even on lighter skinned/caucasion models with help of makeup. he did the guess campaign in i think 1999/2000 and i think he had a japanese-sounding name. also, i recall the film karmen gei used this technique quite a few times.

---
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#10 Michael Collier

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 06:53 PM

because it implies that all other human beings fit nicely into the "light normally for good exposures"category while anyone black is so diferent in skintone that they require a completely different technique.



But there is a different technique. Yes we should talk in skin tone but the point is made to get accross. How you light a skin tone will change as you would change how you light a white wall set and a mahogany color set.

In my experience with darker skin tones you have more leway in color light. If I have someone with darker skin, I open up to new colors and saturations I would not use on a caucasian. Green lights look really good on a darker actor, where on a even medium toned skin looks bad with saturated greens. They do take warm light better than lighter skin, and you have to completely rethink contrast ratios the darker the skin gets.
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#11 Chandra M.Mouli

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 09:10 PM

Dear Eric,

Primarily all incident light meters are designed to measure the luminous intensity of the light falling on the subject. These incident light meters does not count or consider the color reflectence of the actual subject matter, incident light meter is a great asset in predicting the exposure setting for a scene in general. The dome on the incident light meter is designed similar to the reflectance of an 18% gray card.

If you measure the light with incident light meter (calibareted for 18% gray)dark skined are tend to go under exposed.(depending up on skin texture,tone,lighting angle etc.,)
Dark skin takes more light. to be precise on exposure, it is better to use reflected light meter to calculate the accurate skin reflectance of individual skin on any given frame to evaluate and optimize the exposure. Once the key skin tone is pegged you can maintain the same consistency through out the entire filming.
Entire cast present in whole film are dark skinned and all of them are going to be more or less on the same scale.

Wish you good luck
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#12 timHealy

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 12:27 PM

i agree, it always sounds pretty retardo whenever i hear someone say these exact words, because it implies that all other human beings fit nicely into the "light normally for good exposures"category while anyone black is so diferent in skintone that they require a completely different technique.

exposing for different skintones is really no different than doing so for different shades of wardrobe-- if there's a particularly dark shirt/face or a particularly bright shirt/face, then you simply have to meter it and make sure that it's not going to show up darker/lighter than you want it to. like others mentioned, it's unwise to put a white shirt on a very dark-skinned actor, nor should you put a black shirt on a very fair-skinned actor.


Exactly! This was the only point I was trying to get across. So I am not the only person who finds the question odd or off putting for whatever the reason.

If I were a black cinematographer would I find lighting black people "normal" and white people the exception? That is a rhetorical question.

Best

Tim

Edited by heel_e, 23 April 2006 - 12:32 PM.

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#13 Chris Pritzlaff

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 05:40 PM

Set the racial arguments aside. He is asking for advice on lighting actors with different color skin tones. I think it would be more offensive if he didn't take this into consideration and would light the darker skinned actors as he would lighter ones.
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#14 timHealy

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 11:07 PM

I don't think anyone is arguing. Personally I was just trying to feel out people's thoughts in how we phrased the question about lighting people in a more politcally correct manner. No one has suggested that not asking the question is an option, but just the manner in which the question is asked.

Best

Tim
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#15 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 03:41 AM

Set the racial arguments aside. He is asking for advice on lighting actors with different color skin tones. I think it would be more offensive if he didn't take this into consideration and would light the darker skinned actors as he would lighter ones.


just to clear the air, i wanna say that i don't think eric's asking or the way he asked was insensitive or foolish in any way. i hope he didn't take my remarks as such.

i was really just addressing the numerous other times i've heard shooters/dps speak of lighting "black people" as if it's as fundamental of a difference as shooting under fluorescent practicals versus tungsten, even though the actor is only like a zone5.

but a lot of people have brought up the use of incident meters, which i didn't really think about. if you light using incident and light ratios, then i can see why it would be a bigger deal to be shooting people with darker skin.
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#16 timHealy

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 08:22 AM

i don't think eric's asking or the way he asked was insensitive or foolish in any way. i hope he didn't take my remarks as such.


I agree completely and share the same sentiment.

Best

Tim
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#17 Matt Pacini

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 02:29 PM

I'm sorry to crash the party here, but these posts show just how absurd the whole politically correct thing has gotten.

He wasn't asking how to light every skintone known to man.
He asked how to light black people, therefore, one can assume, he's got black actors in his cast, and one can assume, that the fact he didn't ask how to light anyone else, means he already knows how to light his other actors, whether they be white, asian, hispanic, Indian, or whatever.

The posts above are so full of assumptions about his "real intentions and thoughts about people of color", that it proves what I've always thought; that those who insist on being politically correct are more racist than the rest of us. The guy is just trying to solve a technical problem, that's all. He's not making some grand statement about the superiority of white people, or whatever you guys think he's trying to say.

If he asked how to light a dark wall, or a red wall, or whatever, it would be no big deal.
But it seems that any attention whatsoever someone puts on calling out someone's skin color, even for obviously benign reasons, means there must be racist overtones in his remarks.
Personally, I'm excited when I get to film black actors, because it's a challenge technically, and I think their skin looks terrific when photographed correctly.

To ignore that there's a difference, and be afraid to ask these questions he's asked, (and therefore likely underexpose the person, making them look ridiculous, where the eyes & teeth are all you can see, like those old B&W movies mentioned above) would be a far greater tragedy than him asking the question here on this supposedly helpful forum.

MP
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#18 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 03:44 PM

I'm sorry to crash the party here, but these posts show just how absurd the whole politically correct thing has gotten.

He wasn't asking how to light every skintone known to man.
He asked how to light black people, therefore, one can assume, he's got black actors in his cast, and one can assume, that the fact he didn't ask how to light anyone else, means he already knows how to light his other actors, whether they be white, asian, hispanic, Indian, or whatever.

The posts above are so full of assumptions about his "real intentions and thoughts about people of color", that it proves what I've always thought; that those who insist on being politically correct are more racist than the rest of us. The guy is just trying to solve a technical problem, that's all. He's not making some grand statement about the superiority of white people, or whatever you guys think he's trying to say.

If he asked how to light a dark wall, or a red wall, or whatever, it would be no big deal.
But it seems that any attention whatsoever someone puts on calling out someone's skin color, even for obviously benign reasons, means there must be racist overtones in his remarks.
Personally, I'm excited when I get to film black actors, because it's a challenge technically, and I think their skin looks terrific when photographed correctly.

To ignore that there's a difference, and be afraid to ask these questions he's asked, (and therefore likely underexpose the person, making them look ridiculous, where the eyes & teeth are all you can see, like those old B&W movies mentioned above) would be a far greater tragedy than him asking the question here on this supposedly helpful forum.

MP


hate to be redundant, but i clearly said that i never took eric's question as all those things you just implied. i was further commenting on something that heel_e stated (and was obviously divergent from eric's question).

as for my comments, don't confuse "political correctness" for people simply voicing what they see as a perpetuation of silliness in language regarding ethnicity, as it pertains to cinematography. the only thing worse than "political correctness" freaks are people who needlessly take aforementioned voiced concerns as personal attacks. you have every right to call us absurd or hypersensitive, and i welcome it, but don't ever put words like this...

"The posts above are so full of assumptions about his "real intentions and thoughts about people of color", that it proves what I've always thought; that those who insist on being politically correct are more racist than the rest of us. The guy is just trying to solve a technical problem, that's all. He's not making some grand statement about the superiority of white people, or whatever you guys think he's trying to say... ...But it seems that any attention whatsoever someone puts on calling out someone's skin color, even for obviously benign reasons, means there must be racist overtones in his remarks."

... in my mouth.

and really, the eyes & teeth thing would be pretty hard to achieve by accident with modern film stocks, save for exceptionally poor skill in lighting & exposure. again, apologies to eric if he inferred any venom, there was never any directed at him.

Edited by jaan, 24 April 2006 - 03:48 PM.

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#19 timHealy

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 04:42 PM

I'm sorry to crash the party here, but these posts show just how absurd the whole politically correct thing has gotten.

He wasn't asking how to light every skintone known to man.
He asked how to light black people, therefore, one can assume, he's got black actors in his cast, and one can assume, that the fact he didn't ask how to light anyone else, means he already knows how to light his other actors, whether they be white, asian, hispanic, Indian, or whatever.

The posts above are so full of assumptions about his "real intentions and thoughts about people of color", that it proves what I've always thought; that those who insist on being politically correct are more racist than the rest of us. The guy is just trying to solve a technical problem, that's all. He's not making some grand statement about the superiority of white people, or whatever you guys think he's trying to say.

If he asked how to light a dark wall, or a red wall, or whatever, it would be no big deal.
But it seems that any attention whatsoever someone puts on calling out someone's skin color, even for obviously benign reasons, means there must be racist overtones in his remarks.
Personally, I'm excited when I get to film black actors, because it's a challenge technically, and I think their skin looks terrific when photographed correctly.

To ignore that there's a difference, and be afraid to ask these questions he's asked, (and therefore likely underexpose the person, making them look ridiculous, where the eyes & teeth are all you can see, like those old B&W movies mentioned above) would be a far greater tragedy than him asking the question here on this supposedly helpful forum.

MP


Matt,

First, I think you need to calm down.

Secondly, like jaan, don't put words in my mouth.

Third, if you want to call me a rascist, do us all a favor and go fu** yourself.


Now as the person who hijacked Erics thread, my apologies, I was trying to feel out the group about the subject matter and for some reason a few people including yourself, feel that I was trying to give the impression that one should not ask any questions about lighting black people. You couldn't be more wrong.

Take the time to read all the comments and you will see that it was not the meaning of the question I was questioning as much as it was how we PHRASE the question.

Jaan seems to get was I was trying to say without going on some half baked rant and calling everyone a rascist.

Now once you do that, also read where I agreed with jaan where in no way did our comments reflect what we thought Eric was trying to get at. Also, Jaan and I agree that we have both heard the question how do "I light black people?" one to many times. To ask that question in that manner sounds ignorant to my ears. Many because there are so many varieties of skin tone and complexion within ANY racial group! People of color can not only be very, very dark, they can also have very fair skin as well. Perhaps not as fair as a caucasion person from northern europe (unless they are mulatto or of a mixed marriage) but perhaps similiar to olive skinned people around the mediterrainian.

Now Eric did not ask "how do I light black people" specifically, it just sounded a bit familiar.

I asked people what their thoughts were so now I know how you feel. But don't you dare go around calling anyone a racist. Especially someone you don't know.

Now if anyone would like to contribute on a level headed manner, please do so.

Best

Tim
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#20 Robert Aldrich

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 10:41 PM

[quote name='EricUlbrich' date='Apr 6 2006, 03:08 AM' post='99149']
Hello,
I am currently beginning production on a thesis film that has an entirely African American Cast. I have heard that due to the dark pigment of the skin, it reacts differently to lighting condidions and an adjustment must be made. If anybody can clear the air on this situation I would be in great debt. Thanks again!
Cheers,
Eric U.

I shot a student thing in film school with daylight exterior and tungsten key, fill and backlighting on two African-American actors and they looked great!
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