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Skin exposures in direct light and non-direct light


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#1 Giorgi Chavez

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 04:37 AM

Of course, most people expose skin in music videos and in fashion photography very differently than in narrative naturalistic films. What I am concerned with at the moment is skin exposures for narrative films. I am concerned with what exposures will render the skin most natural.

My spot meter is calibrated so that the f-stop reading will give me 50% middle gray in the camera. I have observed films like White Material by Claire Denis, Ballast, Black Swan, I Am Love, Ondine, among others and have studied their exposures with the waveform display in Final Cut Pro. I studied mostly White Material because it was a good mix of dark and light skinned people in the same frame.

From what I have observed, it seems that most fair skinned people are exposed at key/middle grey or 50-60% brightness in indirect light or soft ambient light. When they are in direct sunlight they are commonly exposed at 70% brightness or one stop over key. Sometimes I see 40% or 1/2 stop under key in darker shade.
Of course, the shadow regions on their face can go as low as 0% depending on creative decision. I am not taking shadows into consideration because they can vary so much. However, the main light (key light) is often consistent to the percentages that I have noted above.

Most dark skinned people in narrative naturalistic films are exposed at around 30-40% brightness in indirect light and around 60% in direct light. (However, in music videos dark skin is often exposed at 50% in indirect light and three or four stops overexposed for the rim light)

Here is a small table (this is in no way an end-all-be-all fully comprehensive, but just a table of averages based on observations):

Fair skin:
Direct light - 70%
Indirect light - 50%

Dark skin:
Direct light - 60%
Indirect light - 30%

Any comments or corrections would be very welcome.
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#2 John Young

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:12 AM

I actually metered this very effect yesterday. While I was sitting at my desk, I noticed a patch of sunlight fell across my hand.
I had my trusty meter nearby and was very surprised at the results.

My skin (which is very pale from my being a ginger!) in the sun patch through glass, read f22 @ iso320/24fps.
Skin in the ambient room light/shade read f1.4 @ iso320/24fps.
That's a full 8 stops difference, and very likely beyond the ability for a digital camera to hold latitude.


I would have never thought there would be that much difference.
It's just a thought, but you may want to think about which side you want to expose, like blowing out the highs or underexposing the shadows.
Also if you are in a very controlled studio space with your music video, you may want to think about your lighting ratio on skin.
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#3 Giorgi Chavez

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 07:40 PM

I actually metered this very effect yesterday. While I was sitting at my desk, I noticed a patch of sunlight fell across my hand.
I had my trusty meter nearby and was very surprised at the results.

My skin (which is very pale from my being a ginger!) in the sun patch through glass, read f22 @ iso320/24fps.
Skin in the ambient room light/shade read f1.4 @ iso320/24fps.
That's a full 8 stops difference, and very likely beyond the ability for a digital camera to hold latitude.


I would have never thought there would be that much difference.
It's just a thought, but you may want to think about which side you want to expose, like blowing out the highs or underexposing the shadows.
Also if you are in a very controlled studio space with your music video, you may want to think about your lighting ratio on skin.


John, that's a good observation and something is is very common.

My exposures are talking about the main light rather than shadow exposures. As I said above, "I am not taking shadows into consideration" because of the varying ways that people expose shadows I am not going to go into that. Rather, I wanted to focus discussion on the main light, although your observations are more than helpful.

EDIT: Also, I agree with you that it is sometimes surprising to see how much difference in stops direct sunlight can be when you compare it to shadow areas without any kind of bounce to fill in the shadows

Edited by Giorgi Chavez, 10 April 2011 - 07:41 PM.

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