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Skin Tones. Teach me.


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Hi all, I've been shooting for fun for a few years and something has consistently baffled me: skin tones. There's an abundance of tutorials on skin tones all over the net, but they don't answer a fundamental question that I'm after:

What are skin tones supposed to look like or how do I know what skin tones should look like when I'm grading a video or photo? Instead all of these tutorials just go over how to adjust skin tones, but give me no real way to determine how they should look in the context of the composition.

Even when shooting raw and have the most latitude to mess with in post, I've noticed minor adjustments will take your skin tones and throw them out the window, I know people often use mask layers to isolate the skin from the rest of the piece, but when I want to grade to give it a certain look, the isolated skin tones no longer fit the rest of the composition once the rest is graded.

Ahead are a couple samples of grading to have a cinematic overall feel/look and the skin tones look exceptional (screen grabs from Anomaly). But how do you know the skin tones fall where they do to fit the rest of the composition? What languages do people use to describe skin tones so that I can better learn to imagine where I want them to be? These frames are brilliant, the skin still looks like skin even though the tones of the rest of the composition have been pushed to feel likely way different then how they were originally shot, but the skin ALSO fits within those scene colors.

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ANOMALY_WIP_GRADE_03_1.306.1.jpg?format=

Typically if I grade something to have this kind of look, the skin tones go with everything else and end up not looking like skin anymore and my photos look like I have live corpses/zombies walking around. I don't know how you're supposed to determine whether or not your skin tones are supposed to be reddish/yellowish/gold/etc in the context of the grade you're going for.

I really really apologize if this post is confusing as hell, it's just been frustrating me for a long time now and I'd like to work hard to clear this wall in my pieces. That feeling you get when you're laying on a grass field staring at the stars and trying to comprehend how big the universe must be and your brain just hits a wall, that's how I feel when I'm trying to figure out skin tones.

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In a perfectly balanced image - in which all colors were neutral ! - the skintones would be exactly on that line:

Vectorscope.jpg

But if your image is cold, warm or whatever, they need to slightly deviate from that line. There is the paradigm preserve the skintones, but if you don't allow the skin to reflect light, you did too much. You make the perfect skintones, then you let them slightly reflect the overall color. Secondary corrections.

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Vectorscopes can help, but I think this is something you really have to eyeball yourself.. lucky we can check other peoples work with skintone we love as a reference! If it looks right to you, it probably is.. !

 

​Agree. First make the image neutral, and then grade it with your understanding of the scene and which kind of atmosphere you want to create.

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

Accurate skin tone you should aim at getting them to look as thet were to your eyes in real life. That's it, that's the only hard rule. 

From there, you can deviate from the neutral/real look to ANYTHING you want based on how you feel fit for the project. You can deviate from natural to making skin look a bit brghter, softer, and has more reddishness than the accurate base, you want to do that for a female subject in a wedding for example, where you want to make her skin look dreamier and more pleasing that the accurate tone. On the other hand, you can harshen the skin, make it sharper, desaturate it slightlt and add bluish cast, that if you're shootig a subject you want to convey he's sick, dying, etc. You can be shootinf a desert film in the middle east where you want to convey harsh sunlight, then you make the skin tend to yellow/gold much morr than neutral. 

Totally different for different situations.

But I've noticed over the years that people (especially females) see slightly lifted skin (slightly brighter mids) and a bias toward slight red (vs yellow/green) to be the most pleasing to them. While they find slightly darker and slightly yellower non red skin to be not pleasing. 

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this is a very good place to start - http://juanmelara.com.au/print-film-emulation-luts-for-download/

i use movies i love - turn to jpeg and bring into resolve and look at it on a waveform and just think about them a lot - really think about the look

then experiment experiment experiment till you are happy

It's art - there are no right answers - and it takes so long to get anywhere then the next day you aren't happy! :)  and go back and redo and redo.

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I'm a big fan in FCPX of getting my skin tones to neutral by first cropping the image so i only have a swatch of skin showing. Then I open my vectorscope and adjust the color until it's close to the skin tone line (as mentioned above). I find this to be a good starting point and then I can start to work with the look. Overall, I think it's all about the tone you want to achieve and the color science behind it. Making sure your lights are high CRE makes it easier, for example. Try taking one of those pictures you posted above, shoot a test that's in similar lighting (the bathtub should be easy) and then grade them to match. Would be good practice!

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I think also you can

 

1.  white balance your shot

2.  adjust the tint with the log buttons, for shadows, midtones and highlights

3.  power windows

4.  then iso out with color picker your skin tones and put these were you want them

5.  do a secondary color correction pass

6.  apply the final lut to the image

seems to work well but it's tough to do but it works pretty well.

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​What method would you use to make an image neutral?

​I use colorista for premiere, speedgrade and davinci resolve. Whatever footage you are looking at has 3 sections: highlight, mids and shadow.

To make it neutral, you just need to correct them to the real color on the shoot in these 3 parts separately. Normally in premiere, I will open the waveform first to adjust the exposure. Then change it to RGB parade. Then you need to look at the area where they should be white in this scene and adjust the hightlight. Then do the same to the shadows. Then open the vector scope. The mids affects mostly the skin tone.

Some times it can be tricky to do the right adjustment in premiere, but in davinci it's much easier since you can use primary and log adjustments, and keyers, power windows. Whatever tool you use, it's always the same thoughts, hightlight, mids and shadows. After some practice, it should be very fast to finish the color balance, and then you can go to the grading.

I only started to teach myself color correction/grading 3 months ago and have used in a few projects at work. So maybe it's not the best method but you can take it as a reference. 

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here's a useful blog post that talks about this:

http://eddavidblog.com/2015/05/12/what-this-dp-learned-from-coloring/

this book is the best I've read on it - also deals with log and Raw camearas - http://www.amazon.com/Color-Correction-Handbook-Professional-Techniques/dp/0321713117

and this guy is a hero and inspiration on coloring - he had no background in it - http://juanmelara.com.au/print-film-emulation-luts-for-download/

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Dear All,

Could you help me how to fix orange skin tones?

Im testing picture profile settings on my LX100, and i find a good one for the dynamic range, but (sometimes) bad for the skin tones.

I attached a picture about the problem.

You can try youself to grade it, here is the link for the clip: Orange skin tone

Settings for the footage:

Lx100 @ 75mm F2.8, Standard, -5 contrast, -1 sharpness, -4 NR, 0 Saturation, +-2 shadow/highlight curve, iDynamic: low, -0,66 EV exposure, ISO200 auto shutter, 4K 100Mbps downsampled to 1080p25p in FCPX

If i can fix this problem somehow, this would be my "flat" settings. (maybe -3 to saturation will also help)

Simple desaturation in post is not enough, After curves orange comes back

Képernyőfotó 2015-05-14 - 21.41.45.png

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Dear All,

Could you help me how to fix orange skin tones?

Im testing picture profile settings on my LX100, and i find a good one for the dynamic range, but (sometimes) bad for the skin tones.

I attached a picture about the problem.

You can try youself to grade it, here is the link for the clip: Orange skin tone

Settings for the footage:

Lx100 @ 75mm F2.8, Standard, -5 contrast, -1 sharpness, -4 NR, 0 Saturation, +-2 shadow/highlight curve, iDynamic: low, -0,66 EV exposure, ISO200 auto shutter, 4K 100Mbps downsampled to 1080p25p in FCPX

If i can fix this problem somehow, this would be my "flat" settings. (maybe -3 to saturation will also help)

Simple desaturation in post is not enough, After curves orange comes back

Képernyőfotó 2015-05-14 - 21.41.45.png

​Seems specific to his face and scene, like he's getting the orange from a reflection. If so, you could apply a secondary correction, like below - I just moved the midtones gamma toward blue for his face in SpeedGrade.

OrangeFix.thumb.png.04757f953b2cea9b60c5

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