Skin Tone — Part III

Some basics, an ongoing series.

In part I and part II of what I hope to be illuminating for a few of you I used Lightroom 5 and VSCO film 01 presets as a baseline. I’ve discussed a few of the parameters that are visually related and sometimes a bit difficult to assess which particular one might be influencing visual perception of skin. Today I wanted to change that up a bit. Instead of LR5 and a set of packaged presets I’ll mess around in a different RAW processor from scratch. The tools really don’t matter that much. Knowing where you want to go any tool that can do color correction, curves, exposure — the basics — will get you to the same place.

Out of camera default rendering.

A random shot of Mary I made a few weeks ago. Take a look at what that looks like as rendered in Aperture 3 on import. Typical digital rendering, a minor variation from LR5 or Capture One but as usual contrast in all the wrong places — at least for how I want to render skin at this moment. Shot with my barely acceptable Nikon D600 and super crappy 50mm 1.4G (sarcasm) on auto WB and manual exposure. The sea of white as a background caused auto WB to refrain from it’s typical skew towards blue and green that the D600 tends to do, well at least it didn’t do it to the horrid degree as if I were to shoot a lot of skin in the frame.

Instead of my usual M.O. of color correction first let’s mess with some broad strokes of redistributing the contrast more to where I want it. First thing is to un-jam-up the blacks. For this particular camera the import defaults are way too much so let’s give us some breathing room by dialing the blackpoint back a bunch.

Raise the blacks up.

Not too much different but had the effect of lowering overall contrast everywhere ,especially those darker tones in Mary’s skin which are way too red due to my laziness of not moving the burgundy fabric to camera right. Next up we’ll fool around with the a curves control to redistribute mid-tone and highlight contrast.

Slightly different curve shape for contrast redistribution.

That’s a huge shift with what looks like not a lot given the curve applied. I happened to take the screenshot with the Aperture 3 curves control in extended mode. One of the best curves controls in the business. Extreme precision, great degree of control, I really miss that when using the klunky curves controls in other RAW processors. Not relevant , it’s not magic. More of an equivilent to the whites, highlights sliders and curves of Lightroom 5 rolled up in to a different looking tool.

The way the tool works isn’t important — knowing where you want to go is far more important.

A massive change visually. Let’s see what’s going on here; I dropped a point at the lower quarter tone to nail down where the darks were rendered, dropped another one at the highlight quarter tone mark and raised it ever so slightly, then in extended mode dragged absolute white to the right a bit. The effect? Increased mid-tone contrast a hair as well as made them a bit brighter, compressed the highlights and whites lowering their contrast. Visually everything we’ve done so far cumulatively lowers contrast in darker and lighter tones (lowering saturation along with it) and brought the mid-tone contrast and saturation back to where it was when we started (or thereabout) as well as raised those mid-tones a wee bit in terms of luminance.

The visual effect is huge and we’ve not touched one color control directly. I’m not going to bother fine tuning this at all. For demonstration purposes I’ll leave it be and mess around with the color. With contrast redistributed more towards a liberally exposed color negative film treatment it’s easier and less hair-trigger to see what’s going on with color correction. Prolly a bit too saturated still so let’s skew the colors around to be a bit less clinical using the color control block. All of the big three RAW processors have this the mechanics just work a bit differently.

Skewed red and orange rendering — not critical, just fun.

Aperture 3’s color control is a bit twitchier than Lightroom 5’s so a little goes a long way. In this case I messed with the default reds a bit more than I would for illustration. A huge effect visibly, more in line with typical lower contrast negative “pro films” like Kodak Portra and Fuji 400H . This again gives much more flexibility in overall color correction due to less nuclear reds in the skin — especially the denser shadow parts.

Let’s funky-ize the rendering a bit more now for even more of a less clinical rendering. Not really skin related but hey I can’t resist.

Immaterial to the discussion but less clinical color rendtions are my personal preferrence. Especially for trees and grass.

Not a ton of difference in this image but pretty huge in others. An immaterial effect on most people’s skin either way. As a side note Aperture 3 renders blues much darker than most other RAW processors by default. I like this as it’s less cartoonish in most cases. If you rather a typical LR5 or Capture One or OOC JPEG blue rendering you’ll need to boost that blue luminance slider way up.

Now let’s mess with color correction aka white balance using this semi-funky-ized color scheme, contrast redistribution, and less saturated image. You’ll find that color correction either cooler or warmer is a whole lot less fussy. Doesn’t matter where you start, I just wanted to illustrate and reiterate that color correction is not the only parameter related to visual perception of skin. Even if you don’t touch white balance skin tone is heavily influenced by contrast, luminance, and saturation.

I’ll start with a random *warmer* rendition using the temp and tint numbers. It’s cool right now anyway so you’ve seen cool. I’ve mentioned before that the absolute temp and tint numbers are arbitrary for most cameras in most third party RAW processors, they have nothing to do with the color temperture numbers chucked around and usually built-in to third party RAW converters. Typically you’ll need more pink if you dial in a warmer temp unless the pink is too much already. In this case it’s a bit on the pink side — unusual for the D600 AWB.

Huge shift in white balance just for illustration — I tend to like skin neutral or a touch cool rather than warm.

I happened to just randomly choose 7500 instead of the as shot 6750-ish as shot. A significant change. Probably about right depending on your particular viewing conditions and taste. What if we go way over the top with warm, everyone likes crazy warm right? Well, everyone except me depending on lighting context. How about 8000/15 temp/tint…

Way warmer if that’s your taste. Not imporant. Just for comparison for below.

Way too warm. Meh, whatever… Not the numbers are not important. Let’s see what that looks like if we didn’t have those contrast adjustments and redistributions I focused on earlier. Here’s the exact same thing but using the default blackpoint, color rendition, and curve shape.

Illustration of effects of contrast and saturation on color perception.

Yuck but hey — if that’s what you want then great. Here’s another rendition using those contrast adjustments I spoke of using Aperture 3’s skin tone WB mode, a random patch of Mary’s skin in the mid-tones and a bump up on the warmth slider. Any way you slice it more flexible renditions. Especially imporant in natural/ambient conditions where shadow and highlight color temperatures are never the same.

Yet another color correction variation. A baseline contrast curve and saturation level allows a lot more flexibility in your hue choices.

Let’s finish this quick and dirty crappy image up with a few sloppy final touches shall we? Mary was playing in the woods all day the day before this hence the bumps, bruises, and discolorations on her legs. Let’s spot those out. Oh and we’ll add a bit of sharpening to match with the LR5-ish defaults.

Quick and dirty finishing touches.

More later…


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