Case Study: Skin Color Problems

Another case study was submitted on Nikon D7000′s handling of colors. Here is what our reader writes:

Hello Nasim, 2 months ago I bought my first Nikon camera – D7000. I’ve read much about it and decided that this is best camera for me, but recently I am noticing that in certain lighting conditions colors are inadequate. There is an awfull yellow-green color, especially noticeable on people’s faces. Skin on pictures is also has strange color. Changing wb temperature is hardly helping. As an owner of the D7000 could you tell me if this is the problem of all D7000 cameras or is it malfunction of mine? What can i do to fix this?

And here is a sample image that was attached to the case study:
Skin Color Problem

Our reader can relax – there is nothing wrong with his D7000. In fact, even the best camera in the world would not have produced an image with better skin tones and colors. Why? Because in this case, the ambient light around the subject is what is affecting the colors and skin tone. The picture was taken in the evening, after sunset, so the light is coming from what seems like a mix of incandescent and fluorescent lamps over and on the side of the subject. To understand how artificial light affects skin colors, one needs to fully understand “white balance and how it affects colors in images. The hardest and nastiest light that can make a photo impossible to fix is when multiple light sources are thrown into the mix – for example, when there is natural light on one side, bulb light on another and some flash on the front. You might have been in a situation when you want some of the ambient yellowish light in the room to be visible and yet want to throw some flash on your subject to brighten up the face. The end result – a very ugly picture with blues and yellows that is close to impossible to fix in post-processing. How do you go around those types of situations? The answer is not as simple, because it depends on the type of light around you, but you could use some very simple techniques like using gels on your flash to balance the light coming out of flash with the ambient light. These and other flash photography tips and tricks can be found in our “Flash Photography Tips” section of the website. We will be adding more content there very soon, perhaps in another “flash photography month”.

I asked my post-processing guru Lola to try to edit the above image and see if she can fix the skin tone and here is what she came up with:
Corrected Skin Color

She is currently working on a big project and once she is done with it, she promised to write a detailed article on working with skin colors and how to correct them in post-processing. The above image was sent in resized JPEG format (it is close to impossible to change white balance in JPEG), so she was limited in what she can do with it. It took her a couple of minutes to do this and I then resized and sharpened it a little for the web.

Another alternative is to convert an image to black and white, which should even out the skin tones. Here is her second version of the photo in B&W:
Corrected Skin BW

When photographing subjects, if you are not sure what White Balance (WB) setting to pick, you should shoot in RAW. When you open a RAW photograph in Lightroom or Photoshop, you will have the option to change WB to whatever you want. See my JPEG vs RAW article for more information on why you should be shooting in RAW. Recovering images with incorrect WB will also be much easier in post-processing:

How to change White Balance in Lightroom

The subject of skin colors can be rather complex, but once you employ good post-processing techniques, use proper lighting and have a solid knowledge of white balance, you can achieve great results when photographing people.


Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Ryano Tandayu

    nice post, Nasim. Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work.

  2. 2
    ) Diane Burchfield Johnson

    It’s very simple and all we have to do is go in with lightroom or photoshop and do the color changing. It happen to me several times while I took the images inside the club room and the lighting is so terrible but once it can be done in lightroom then bam it came out great. No problem as long as I know what I am doing. :)

  3. We know that it can be very frustrating and confusing when trying to white balance images such as these. We click and evaluate, click again and evaluate to the point of, “what should the skin tone really look like”. We tend to loose our sense of what a “proper” skin tone should look like. Compound this with more than one subject in the image….throw in some mixed lighting and things can really be confusing now. Trying to judge proper skin tones now becomes very difficult because we are unable in our minds to apply a “standard” for a skin tone. Go to any wedding and look at the bridesmaids…it seems that sun tanning beds and a spray on tan has us spending more time than needed to color balance images. One trick that I use is when I have images such as these…look for “black” in the image. If there is a slight yellow, or magenta cast to the black, try correcting the black to a “true black”. Recently I had an image of four bridesmaids…four different skin tones, two of which had done the the “tanning thing”, with the remaining two women looking like they had just spend a winter indoors…pale in skin color. After spending a considerable amount of time trying to balance the skin tones, I realized that they were of course all wearing the same dress, which happened to be black. Now I put my attention towards balancing the “black” in their dresses. This will always get me closer to proper color balance of skin tones than using the dropper in Lightroom with these types of images. Give it a try, and remember to put the attention on balancing the “blacks” in an image and the color balance for the skin tones should fall into place.

  4. 4
    ) Sardorbek Pulatov

    Oh God, Its me on the photo :)

  5. 5
    ) UZBEK BOY

    Usma Qoshlarindan ;)

    • 8
      ) Peter

      Ever see this one?

      ( ) ( )
      x x
      = v =

      It’s topo gigio! The Italian mouse.

  6. 6
    ) Peter

    No problem with camera under this a kind of lighting. I fixed the color balance in two minutes using Color Efex pro and CS3.

  7. 7
    ) Junaid

    Nasim,

    I got quick question, is there any online serivce where I can backup all my raw files. I personally don’t want to back them up on the cds or the dvds, and you can always rely on the external hard drives. your reply is always appreciated.

    Thank you

  8. 11
    ) deepa

    Want to enter world of dslr at present budget is 1500 to 2000, don’t want to regret my purchase , need your openion.

    • 12
      ) Amit

      I would recommend D5100 18-55 kit (~$750) + 35mm f/1.8G DX (~$200). Below is the link to Nasim’s review of D5100:
      http://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-d5100

      Unless you are very sure:
      - Dont spend too much on the camera body. D5100 has the best Nikon DX sensor. D3100 isn’t bad either.
      - Dont spend too much on slow zoom lenses.

  9. 13
    ) denise

    IF you are still shopping for a camera, I recommend the Canon 7D. I love mine and I dont feel I will “out grow” it. Quite user friendly and within your budget. Great case study here. Appreciate all I have read and learned. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for sharing. However, I like the original rendition despite it is somewhat underexposed. Although the skin tonality is (very) warm, it enhances the depth (3D effect ) of the scene. Also, the expression in the original picture becomes subdued and on the flatter side. I enjoy these case studies immensely; one always learns something new.

  11. 15
    ) Syed Maroof

    Nasim,

    I strongly believe that there is a real issue with D7000′s handling of skin tones, even with a single source of light. Often, banding can be noticed on various regions of skin and in the process this causes the image to flatten out. You can notice this more clearly in the WB corrected image in this post. The skin colour of the arm looks different than the wrist. The contours below the eye and near the nose are rendered insignificant, taking away the 3D effect.

    Would appreciate if you could write further on this topic or at least reply to my comment. I can provide some samples of my own. Thanks

  12. 16
    ) Chazz

    Better?

    http://masters.galleries.dpreview.com.s3.amazonaws.com/2510020.jpg?AWSAccessKeyId=14Y3MT0G2J4Y72K3ZXR2&Expires=1365531153&Signature=TKwMs10AP0wNNgEf0Gxh3rgpqVA%3d

    In Picture Window Pro, I used a probe on the shirt to set a white balance. Then I manually raised the green a bit.

Leave a Comment

*