Photographing People Of Color
Shooting digitally has made
it easier for me to photograph black people. I can see what I'm
doing as I'm creating each image and make adjustments accordingly.
Detail is what I'm looking for...detail everywhere. It's
not that difficult to achieve.
Now that I'm working digitally with Canon's EOS 10D and
their EOS-1Ds, I can check the images immediately and look at the histograms.
What I'm looking for in particular is that I don't blow
out the highlights. If there's no detail in the specular highlights,
it's not that easy to fake information to put in there.
In order to photograph people of color you have to create strong specular
highlights. The darker the skin tone the more intense the highlights
need to be. Change in exposure? Yes! I'm a little surprised, myself,
but I've found that I did have to change the exposure slightly
to get all the detail that I wanted in some of these portraits.
This gentleman told me in advance that he's never really seen
his face in a photograph. I laughed knowingly and told him not to worry.
They originally came in to be photographed in their native West African
This photograph was actually the last one I made. Yes, it shows their
clothing, but they are simply lost in the photograph, I explained to
them. Having already viewed the original pictures that I had just made,
they readily agreed with me.
So, let's go back and see exactly how the images were created.
I used a Delkin 640 memory card in the camera. I don't have to
wait between exposures--even when shooting in the raw mode. I placed
two lights in Westcott softboxes in profile position. Silver reflectors
(black on the back side) bounce the light back onto the faces while
keeping the lights from flaring into the lens. A fill light in an umbrella
is behind my camera.
Lighting Diagram For
I basically expose for the main lights (in this case the two lights in
profile position) and then keep the fill light two f/stops less. When
photographing these people the histograms and immediate images were exceptionally
helpful. I could see, for instance, that I was losing detail in the bright
specular highlights on the faces. I continued to move the two lights back,
until I saw good tonal values in the highlights and the spikes on the
histogram staying within acceptable limits. Once there, I found that I
wanted to raise the fill light on the front of the faces an extra f/stop.
I needed to see more detail, especially on the man's face. It ended
up that the main and the fill were one f/stop apart.
The first close-up portrait that I actually created was this 2/3 view
of the woman.
It was made with my regular lighting pattern, lights in normal position
for the 2/3 facial view.
Besides normal retouching, the only thing that I did to all of these portraits
was to darken the corners slightly. I did this by creating an extra layer
in Photoshop, darkening the entire image in Curves, and then erasing the
center of the darkened layer to create the burning-in effect.
husband got in front of my camera. His statement that he had never really
seen his face in a picture was right up my alley. I knew exactly how to
handle the situation. I put my two main lights both in profile position,
and blocked the lights from my lens with reflectors (that also bounced
some of the light back onto his face). A quick look at the image on the
back of my camera told me that I needed to give him one more f/stop to
pick up detail in his face. It worked perfectly.
I saw the back of his hand facing the camera (usually a no-no) and liked
the strength that it communicated. I left it there. He was wearing a polka
dot bow tie that I tried to cover but finally had him remove. It was just
too disruptive to the look I was creating. He looked at the back of my
camera and I had him in the palm of my hand! Anything I wanted after that...
Here's the lighting diagram for his portrait:
His wife had changed costumes by then. I did a few more close-ups of her
and ended up with this profile. She had never seen this view of her face.
She loved it.
So, I then added him behind her for a pose that I've used before
as a romantic portrait. It worked beautifully again!
The lighting remained the same. To get them this close I sat them both
facing one another. They each leaned toward the other one, until their
faces were only inches apart. I had to be careful where her profile met
his face. I didn't want her to cut into his eyes or nose. I also
was careful not to turn his face away from the light that was coming from
his left. The focus should be on her profile.
Finally, I ended with the close-up of him showing his full cap.
Now, review all the pictures. See how important the highlights are that
were created from my lights in profile position. Without these specular
highlights the faces would be flat and would lack dimension. With them
you can see detail even in his dark skin tones.
Lit properly the skin tones of people of color have more luster than that
of most others. Watch your TV. Watch the movies. You'll see side,
kicker lights all the time. Once you realize howsimply and beautifully
faces can be lit, you'll be creating some of the best portraits
of your subject's lives, too!