Does The Color Temperature Of Your Light Affect Skin Tones in Photography?

OK, we’re going to get nerdy here. There are many different kinds of artificial lights, and then there is the light from our sun, commonly referred to daylight. If you want to read up on light color temperature, Wikipedia has a great article.

For artificial lights, they generally fall into a couple of different classes: warm, neutral, and cool.

Warm lights are lights that are tungsten, incandescent, candles, etc. Neutral lights are what you generally see in most retail stores, and nowadays usually consists of fluorescent or LED lighting. Neutral light usually sits between 3800K and 5000K. Cool lights are generally any light that has a color temperature above 5000K.

For photography, if you’re shooting ambient light, it’s going to be all over the place. If you’re shooting with continuous “Hot Lights” then it’s generally on the warmer side (2800-3200K), and if you’re shooting with the newer LEDs, the good ones are tunable, but otherwise they’ll be on the cooler side, and if you’re shooting with a speed light or studio strobe, it most definitely will be on the cooler side, usually at least 5500K, but sometimes upwards of 6500K depending on the quality and power setting.

This all leads to an interesting question: When shooting people, is there a best color temperature to use that renders more pleasing skin tones? Searching Google leads to lots of articles on how to light for skin tones, but very little in the way of whether to use warmer or cooler color temps for your lighting. With that being said, generally, pros tend to err towards warmer color temperatures (i.e. Tungsten) because it tends to look better. This is why much of our indoor lighting for houses is generally pretty warm.

I thought I would put this to the test and take some pictures using a studio strobe at it’s native color temperature, which is advertised to be ~5600K, and then that same strobe, but gelled with a CTO gel to get the color temperature down to roughly what a tungsten hot light would be, which is ~3200K, then compare the two and see what it looks like. Note: the color temperature is going to vary a little depending on the power level of the strobe, but it should be roughly correct.

So lets start with a standard bare strobe with no color correction:

Here’s the color checker chart:

AB7A5458

So we can see we’re correctly white balanced for the light in our software, now lets see what yours truly looks like under the exact same light with the exact same white balance in software:

AB7A5457

I look like a caucasian guy. If anything, my skin is rendering a bit on the flat or gray side partially because I’m one of those awful people that has a neutral skin undertone. I am however cursed with a pretty bad complexion, so there are parts of my face that are rendering as blotches of color. I guess this is what happens when you’ve been a life long sufferer of super severe eczema.

Let’s look at the same light, but gelled to 3200K:

AB7A5459

Again, we can see that we are correctly white balanced in our software. Let’s see what I look like under this same light:

AB7A5455

Hmm… that’s interesting.

Let’s look at the two color checker cards side by side. The one on the left is 5600K the one on the right is 3200K:

color_checker_side_by_side

We can see that even though the the white balance between the two matches, the colors don’t exactly render the same way.

Let’s look at me side by side, again left is 5600K, right is 3200K:

face_side_by_side

Again, very interesting. Keep in mind some of the color you’re seeing is due to my very unfortunate complexion.

So does the color temperature of your light effect the skin tones in photography? I would say yes. Which one looks better? That’s really a subjective thing more than anything else.

The important thing to take away here is that you should be cognizant of the fact that some people might look better in warmer light and some might look better in cooler light and adjust accordingly.

Till next time.

Blue Hour Hacky Sack

For this post, let’s talk about taking advantage of white balance to enhance your scene.

I’ll start with a mantra: White Light is a Lie. I’m a long time reader of Strobist, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that white light has its uses, but largely is a subjective creative choice that can be manipulated in the camera, or manipulated with colored gels if shooting with a speed light or studio strobe.

Let’s take the image above. I was recently photographing an event and saw a group of youngsters outside playing hacky sack. It was evening and the sun had already dipped down under the horizon and they were trying to get the last game or two in for the remaining minutes that the light was still there enough to see by. It had been mostly overcast throughout the day and at this point, the sky had light cloud cover.

I took a quick step outside and grabbed a number of frames, the one above being the best one.

Once I got the images pulled into the computer, I initially did a white balance that looked like this:
Blue Hour Hacky Sack

You can see that it’s evening time, you can see the warm light from inside the building spilling onto the concrete in the foreground, and spilling onto the skin of the people in the frame.

Looking at the Adobe ACR data, the white balance was 8300 Kelvin. Very blue, very cool ambient light. When I did the initial WB, I pulled the reading off the concrete that didn’t have the warm light spilling on it.

On its own, white balanced like this, this could be a totally serviceable image, however, we can enhance the mood and feeling a little bit by adjusting the WB in ACR to something that is a bit more evocative of outdoors during the late evening.

The first modification, I set the WB to Daylight in ACR:

Blue Hour Hacky Sack

That’s better, and what it’d probably look like if you were shooting daylight balanced film, but not what I was envisioning. The Daylight WB setting in ACR is 5500K.

I then went to Tungsten WB in ACR:

Blue Hour Hacky Sack

Whoa. That feels like a bit too much blue. The Tungsten WB setting in ACR is 2850K. We need something between daylight WB and Tungsten WB in ACR. Good thing I shot raw.

For those of you who spend any amount of time shooting with flash indoors, you’ll know that many times, you have to CTO your flash to get it match the lighting indoors if you are blending the two. I primarily use Rosco lighting gels, and their range of CTO gels (1/8 to full CTO) with flash results in the following white balances in Kelvin: 4900K, 4500K, 3800K, 3200K, and 2900K.

When I shoot interiors that are lit warmly, I often end up with my white balance set at ~3800K. This still allows me to render the interior lighting to be anywhere’s from roughly neutral to a bit on the warm side (always a good thing if people are in your shots), and since a 1/2 CTO on a speed light or studio strobe lands at 3800K, gives me 3/4 and full CTO if I want to warm my flash, 1/2 CTO if I want it neutral, and 1/4 and 1/8th CTO if I want to cool if off relative to the camera WB. Many interior lights nowadays are generally 4000K to 2800K depending on the type of light.

Being that I was just inside shooting right before this image was taken, and actually had my camera WB set to 3800K, I decided to make my WB center 3800K. It’s right between 5500K and 2850K and falls nicely where a 1/2 CTO gelled flash would be if I wanted to do that, and if I wanted to, I could push my flash into CTB gel territory and match the color of the ambient light outside. That resulted in the image at the top of this page.

So what’s the takeaway? If your camera or post processing software supports it, don’t be afraid to explore the color temperature or white balance of the light in your image to enhance its mood and feel. You’d be amazed at the effect that it can have.

Updated Fomapan 200 and 400 Film Tech Sheets

I’ve updated the tech sheet for Fomapan 200 and added an official tech sheet for Fomapan 400. Both films now are developed with replenished XTOL to the ISO standard contrast 0.62, so check out the available tech sheets if sending film in to Simple Film Lab for exposure guidance and sample DNG files so you’ll know what to expect if sending film in to be processed.

It should be noted that the tech sheets are just films that we’ve officially looked at. We develop all black and white and C-41 films, so if you’ve shot film that we don’t have listed, that’s not a problem. We can still develop it and scan it in for you, we just don’t have an official position on how to expose it and such because we haven’t officially looked at it.

Simple Photography Services Now Offering Prints

Simple Photography Services is now offering digital prints of your images.

You can select between standard prints and archival quality fine art prints in a variety of paper types and sizes.

What are you waiting for? Get out of the digital dark ages and order some beautiful prints today!

Portrait Lighting Walkthrough

Kyle Portrait

Let’s look at the image above for a minute. Look at the light. Study the complexity of color for a few minutes. What do you notice?

Clearly this image was shot in a studio with strobes, but, would you say it totally looks like it was lit with strobes? Why does it look this way?

Lets break it apart a bit and see how we got here.

We’ll start with a simple truth: White light is a lie. Since when does white light occur in nature? It doesn’t. What we call white isn’t actually all that white, it’s largely just a way for us provide a point of reference to describe other colors of light.

Would you believe me if I told you that the above photo was actually lit with 3 different strobes and they where all different colors of light?

It’s true. Let’s walk through it.

The key light is to camera left. It’s a pretty standard 45 degrees over and 45 degrees up. It’s a Paul Buff X1600 White Lightning strobe in a LumoPro 36 inch Octo-box. Nothing special there. Where it starts to get interesting though is that it is gelled so that the color it emits is red. Specifically, 15 units of Rosco CalColor Red.

Wait. What? Why isn’t everything red then? Well, if that was the only light being used, it would be, however, we’re mixing colors, so lets look at the other two lights.

The primary fill light is another Paul Buff X1600 White Lightning. I’ve put a 180 degree reflector on it and pointed it at the giant white wall behind the camera. I then gelled it with 90 units of CalColor Green, and 60 units of CalColor Blue. This results in a really greenish bluish color if used alone, and because of its position, it basically fills every crack and crevice with this light.

There is a secondary fill light in the form of a LumoPro LP180 speed light pointing at the white wall to the camera’s right and it is gelled with 90 units of CalColor Blue.

Where the magic comes in is how all the lights mix together, because what we’re doing is mixing colors to get a resultant color. Even though all the strobes were metered at different levels, combined with the various gel strengths (this is the reason I use Rosco CalColor gels, they’re calibrated and it’s fairly easy to figure out how much you need for a given light level) in RGB terms, the resulting color is basically 255 red, 170 green, 85 blue. If you plug that into pretty much any RGB color calculator online what you’ll end up with is what looks like about a 1/2 CTO gel.

So why not just do that? Put a 1/2 CTO gel on all the lights. You can, but it wouldn’t look all that interesting.

Why?

This is where the chromatic complexity comes in. Each color is coming from a different angle and hitting the subject at a different angle. Where all three colors are hitting the subject, you get the effect of having a CTO gel, however, in the areas where only two or one of the lights is hitting the subject, the color of the light is dramatically different.

Take a close look at the shadow side of the subject’s face. It is most definitely pushing to blue. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The shadow side is lit so that it’s 3 stops down from the key side, so even though the strength of the gels is pretty high, the effect is actually very subtle.

Now, this is how I think about light and how I light. There are many ways to Rome. You can accomplish something very similar by actually just putting a 1/2 or full CTO on the key light and a full CTB and 1/2 plus green on the fill, and in fact, a lot of very experienced photographers do just that and get more than acceptable results. I prefer the CalColor gels because it allows me to be quite a bit more precise, and that’s just how I roll.

Enjoy!

The Humble Egg

A walkthrough of how a still life composition of an egg is lit with studio strobes.

The Egg

It’s been a while since I’ve shot anything in the studio outside of film profiles, so I thought I’d spend a couple of hours today and shoot a proper fine art/still life in black and white.

This was shot digitally, however, I also went ahead and shot a number of images on Ilford HP5+ 120 roll film.

This is obviously lit, so as a learning exercise, lets walk through the lighting set up.

I used two lights. The first and most important was the base fill light. I took full advantage of the super reflective white wall behind the camera and turned it into a giant fill light by pointing a Paul Buff White Lightning X1600 strobe at it with an umbrella reflector that throws light 180 degrees. This was metered to f/2.0.

With that done, I then took another Paul Buff White Lightning X1600 strobe, mounted a 36 inch Octo-box on it from LumoPro and placed it camera left. I positioned and rotated it until I had the light feathering right across the background and then metered it to f/8.0.

For the composition, I kept it simple. A basic white egg cup, an egg, and a seamless white paper backdrop from Savage Universal.

Once that was done, I shot it at f/16.0 on a tripod with an APS-C camera and a 50mm prime lens. The camera/lens system make is pretty irrelevant as you can do this with pretty much any camera that has a flash hot shoe and interchangeable lens.

If you want to do almost the same thing on the cheap, you can substitute the real studio strobes with smaller and significantly less expensive portable speed-lights. Put the main light behind a nice big photo umbrella, though you’ll still need a white wall. For the seamless backdrop, you can substitute a white poster board for a significant cost savings, however, it tends to have a shinier almost glossy finish than the matte finish of a real backdrop paper from Savage, so keep that in mind. You may need to use a flag (black foam board) to feather the light on the backdrop.

Enjoy!

Ilford HP5+ Film Profile Updated

I’ve updated the Ilford HP5+ film review and moved it to its own tech page along with all the other films I’ve generated tech pages for.

Just as a reminder, if you want to use Simple Film Lab to get your film processed and scanned, please consult the published tech sheets so that you’ll know what to expect for results.

Next Up: JCH Streetpan 400