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Skin tones =(


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#1 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 15 2009 - 02:01 AM

I'm really struggling with skin tones lately, especially indoors.  Not sure where I'm hosing things up but I can't seem to remove the yellow tint I keep getting, no matter how I manipulate the white balance... 

Even with my portable studio lighting setup, which should produce pretty clean white light I'm still struggling.



Open to suggestions if you all have anything I can try.

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#2 of 34 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted December 15 2009 - 10:29 AM

Not sure offhand, but have you tried playing w/ the Hue setting whether in-camera or in Nikon's postprocessing software?

I do seem to recall that some folks have found Nikon's look (for skin tone) to be slightly yellow, but it's hard to be sure whether that's really a Nikon look instead of something else factoring into overall equation.

I'll say this.  There's definitely more to "accurate" color balance than the standard Kelvin white balance setting people typically use, so you're not likely to fix the kind of color issue you're noticing w/ that sort of "standard" approach.  In fact, Nikon seemed to start implementing the additional factors/complexities into their color balancing algorithm starting around their design/production of their then-flagship D2 series, IIRC, and that may have been partly why they started opting to "encrypt" (parts of) their NEF RAW format, ie. seemingly to protect the IP for their work-in-progress(?) algorithm.

Anyway, I took a look at the exif(?) data for the first pic, and you're using Adobe Lightroom.  Has Adobe gotten very far w/ handling Nikon images all that well (w/out a lot of user intervention)?  How do images look straight from camera, if you set white balance manually (and maybe adjust Hue slightly, if needed)?

I don't think the typical approach that Adobe users use to sample (one patch of true gray area) to determine white balance is as perfect as they think (or that Adobe probably led on for all these years).  Consider this.  AFAIK, that's not what an ISF calibrator does either to calibrate your display.

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#3 of 34 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted December 15 2009 - 01:26 PM

Are you shooting RAW and then converting to JPEG, or shooting in JPEG?  If you are not using RAW, try that to get a more accurate white balance correction. I've always struggled with getting accurate color temperature correction of jpeg file, and have much better luck doing this in RAW. Also, since you are using Adobe Lightroom, you may want to try Nikon's RAW conversion software instead of Adobe Camera Raw. I find that Canon's Digital Photo Professional software does a better job of basic RAW to JPEG processing (including white balance adjustment) than ACR -- in my case, via Photoshop Elements. I only use Elements for more advanced processing, if necessary.

You could also try setting a custom white balance to ensure you are getting a proper white balance setting.


#4 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 15 2009 - 01:54 PM

Shooting RAW NEFs, editing in Lr, output to JPEG.  Tried both "Flash" presets and manually working both balance sliders, I can get the room exactly as I envision it but skin tones never seem right to me.  I'm wondering if I'm overexposing the skin with flash and that makes it impossible to balance out later.  I will try underexpsing with flash a few next time and also take a few with my Digital Calibration zebra Stripe target....

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#5 of 34 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted December 15 2009 - 03:45 PM

Just note though that you're likely ignoring the green channel when adjusting color temp.  That could be one basic source of the problem.

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#6 of 34 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 16 2010 - 07:38 AM

Sam,


Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Posten 

.....
 I'm wondering if I'm overexposing the skin with flash and that makes it impossible to balance out later.  I will try underexposing with flash a few next time and also take a few with my Digital Calibration zebra Stripe target....
 
That could very well be the case. For a test, I concentrated on your first photograph. It looks like a bit unevenly exposed. Perhaps the lamps are a bit too much to the front, so the group gets more light than can be corrected by the auto-exposure, if the camera takes the background in consideration as well. The background does look a bit dark, while the light skins (of children!) are definitely slightly overexposed, especially the red channel (perhaps by the white balance function).
As you undoubtedly know, the over-exposed highlights in one colour destroy the relative balance of individual pixels to the other colour channels, and makes it difficult/impossible to correct (but I have a little trick of my own /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif ).

I "corrected" your photo (I slightly exaggerated to show the effect - the result also depends on the monitor used), but note the faces of the three children closest to the lamp. Still a bit too white, it's impossible to get them all alright with overall processing!

Original:

Posted Image


"Restored" colour balance, note the girl in front - face still too white:

Posted Image

Perhaps you should try setting the lamps more backwards, so the whole scene might be illuminated more evenly. Or did you also use a flash? I think you're right about setting the exposure a few stops back: it will make it easier to repair the balance later.


(BTW, off topic: does Santa always wear his beard under his nose in the US? Our Sinterklaas normally has a more believable version:
Posted Image    Posted Image    /img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif  )


Cees


#7 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted January 16 2010 - 10:19 AM

Thanks Cees!  I'll definitely be trying that on the next shoot.  There was no on camera flash, I shot in manual at 1/125th at f8 and balanced the off camera flashes from there, but I think I left them a bit too far up...

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#8 of 34 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted January 16 2010 - 05:50 PM

SAM!!!  FOR GOD'S SAKE!!  Your umbrella is reflected in the shot.  Is that your only light source?  A single light source is tricky to do, and if there are 2 sources, they are so close together there might as well be just one..  Hopefully you have another.  Move the key (main) light further off axis.  If it is properly placed it should not show up in the glass.  Then you have a second source from above and behind the camera at about 1 stop down at the subject from the key light.  Just general guidance.  That will cool your hot spots as well as add some depth to the shot.  This lighting is flat and makes the subjects look like cardboard cutouts.  Harsh but true, if unsolicited.

As Cees said, the umbrella may be too close as well.  Try shooting the light through the umbrella sometime, instead of reflecting it off it.  Assuming it is a white, translucent umbrella, that is.

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#9 of 34 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted January 16 2010 - 05:57 PM

Sam, I just actually read your last post.  Do NOT "balance" your lights.  As a general rule (Meaning, until you know enough to break the rules) the key (off axis) light should always be stronger at the subject than the fill, and the fill should come from behind and above the camera.  That's how it "fills" the key light by creating a relatively shadowless, weaker light.  It means nothing what the lights are set for, only the intensity of the light reaching the subject.

Also, digital is something like transparencies.  I'll explain.  That means you should expose for the highlights, because once they are lost, they are gone for good.  IOW, you are overexposing a bit, or you "brightened" too much in processing.

And, the color problem is not yellow.  It looks like cyan to me.  I'm guessing Cees boosted the red a bit in his correction.  You can't do it all with the color temp slide.


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#10 of 34 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 17 2010 - 02:53 AM

Correct. I redistributed the red.
But to be fair to Sam: I overdid it in the pic above to show that it was extremely difficult to get any blush back on the cheeks of the children in front of the main light.

Here's the much more modest, less dramatic (and more faithful) version I prepared first (the result also depends on the monitor used to view it).

Sam's original
Sam's rosy-reds
(both at 1024 x 680)

Yes, heh, heh, that reflection of the umbrella may in fact have saved some of the shot, if the camera was set to auto-expose. It would have forced it to expose shorter and thus avoid the worst part of the overexposed highlights.

That main light with the umbrella should have been farther away, IMO, roughly twice the distance between the front of the group and the plane of the background you still want to get lighted out evenly. (I use for that a general 1/3 rule: the distances within the composition should be 1/3 of the distance of the light and the hindmost plane - only a rule of thumb, of course.)

I agree with John that the fill flash is acceptable, but should be at least 1 stop down (don't hesitate to try more). And doing so, you will also diminish the chances of the red-eye problem, perhaps to the level where you don't need that irritating multiple flash sequence.


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#11 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted January 17 2010 - 03:29 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRice 

Your umbrella is reflected in the shot.  Is that your only light source?  A single light source is tricky to do, and if there are 2 sources, they are so close together there might as well be just one..  Hopefully you have another.  Move the key (main) light further off axis. 

As Cees said, the umbrella may be too close as well.  Try shooting the light through the umbrella sometime, instead of reflecting it off it.  Assuming it is a white, translucent umbrella, that is.

John, thanks for the excellent comments.  The shot that Cees used is probably the exception in the set where the light source is visible.  The set up was designed to be tight on the tree in a VERY difficult set up designed to be as unobtrusive as possible in the middle of a live event!  This wasn't set up solely for photography, it was set up FIRST as a party and second as my shoot.

Here's a pic of the setup:
http://bestc.am/D2VBP

Once the event started the tripod got taken out of the mix and I was left shooting hand held for the remainder.  As you can see, it's not very subtle but it worked out well and nobody complained about it and none of the kids ran into any of it which was a bigger concern for me than the actual results. 

Here's a better idea of the tight look that most of the shots in the setup resulted in:
http://www.flickr.co...57623005504580/

Here's the rest of the set:


And sorry, when I said 'balancing' I absolutely meant balancing to taste, not 100% even balanced.  The right side is my alienbee main flash and it's primary.  The left hand side is an SB800 purely there to provide fills.

As for the original skin tone issue, I've tried manipulating both color balance sliders and even the HSL's on the skin areas using Lr's TAT tool and still not happy with the results...  I genuinely think that it's simply overexposed despite shooting to the right (but avoiding blinkies...)


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#12 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted January 17 2010 - 03:34 AM

Also, and I've thought about this for three days now, I have NO IDEA what you are talking about with Santa's beard under his nose Cees.  Maybe it's hard to see but there is a mouth opening in that mess of hair =)  Is that what you are talking about?

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#13 of 34 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted January 17 2010 - 05:24 AM

Sam, here's the last of my free lighting advice.  I know how I probably sound, but you also know how this stuff drives me up the wall.  Lighting for people is NOT an equilateral triangle.  Fill comes from the direction of the camera.  As I have already said, above and behind.  You have two key lights and no fill.  Common mistake, so stop it.  Lighting for people is meant to do more than just throw light on the subject.  It is also meant to give depth and definition to the faces and bodies.  What you are doing is called "Split" lighting, which fails miseraably in that intent.  Not the approach to take.  Looking at the set-up pic, it appears to me the key light should be on the left, because there is room for it to be outside the possible reflection.  Also, the "fill" light is far too close.  To elaborate on what Cees is talking about, when the lights are too close, you get too much fall-off and the lighting looks amateur and harsh.  Lights really should never be closer than the camera.  When the ceiling is too low for the fill to be above and behind, put it as high as possible and immediately to the opposite side of the camera from the key light.  Did I emphasize IMMEDIATELY to the side?  The fill light fills in the shadows of the key, it doesn't create new side shadows of its own. It is also too strong.  Keep this in mind.  The goal is NOT to illuminate every bit of face.  It is to create definition.  You end up with several different levels of light across the face.  There is the area hit only by the key, the area hit by both the key and (weaker) fill, a small area hit only by the fill and an even smaller area hit only by ambient light.

Not using a tripod for this type of situation is fine.  I presume these are strobes you are using.  It's far more important to get your lighting better.

I understand the concept of being there for the event and having to work within a limited area.  You can do it, just pay closer attention to the limitations you are presented with and adapt to them.

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#14 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted January 17 2010 - 05:49 AM

Awesome advice John and it's much appreciated.  Will see if I can work those in next time.  I definitely wanted to put a light in from the rear just didn't consider killing the second one from the front when I didn't have a third.  Will give that some thought and experimentation.  In a lot less chaotic area =)

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#15 of 34 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted January 17 2010 - 05:55 AM

Just to be clear, when I am talking about "behind and above" for the fill I am talking behind and above the camera, not the subjects.   A hairlight is a whole other issue, but I think that nice touch is dead in the current mentality toward photography.

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#16 of 34 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 17 2010 - 10:27 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Posten 

Also, and I've thought about this for three days now, I have NO IDEA what you are talking about with Santa's beard under his nose Cees.  Maybe it's hard to see but there is a mouth opening in that mess of hair =)  Is that what you are talking about?
 
/img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif
I've seen all of your pictures and I got the impression there was no opening for his mouth in any of those. Almost as if the part that should have been on his chin moved up during the session.
(But I was mainly joking, of course.
And it provided me with another chance to show our counterpart - who so generously has lent his name to Father Xmas in the US.)


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#17 of 34 OFFLINE   Bill Buklis

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Posted January 20 2010 - 09:34 AM

I appreciate your comments as well, John. I know next to nothing about flash lighting, so every bit helps. I picked up a SB-600 so I could at least improve basic flash shots.


Cees, he's just Santa Claus (or Kris Kringle) here. You have to go across the pond to find Father Christmas.

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#18 of 34 OFFLINE   Shane D

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Posted January 20 2010 - 09:42 AM

i just skimmed thru alot of that but have you also tried shooting with a grey card?


#19 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted February 09 2010 - 05:34 PM

I think I found another problem (besides the exposure issues) with some of those pictures.  Was going through Lr tonight and I noticed that many of them have the vibrance cranked up more than than I care for.  Have changed my import preset to compensate for that, will see if that helps.

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#20 of 34 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted July 15 2010 - 01:34 PM

Much to my chagrin I've not been able to practice portrait lighting much since I first posted this.  And I still don't have a mechanism to put a light of any kind behind the subject / between it and the background as John kindly recommended.  Today we had an emergency tasker to get a portrait of our new Colonel to go onto a web page that absolutely had to be done by tomorrow.   No time to wait for our normal guy who has a lot more experience doing formal shots so I became the designated volunteer =) So I dug out my kit and made the best of it.  Always fun, but add on the pressure and no air conditioning where I was set to shoot and I was sweating it a bit, but I think these came out a bit better than my Christmas shots even if I was stuck using the same 'split' setup that drove John nuts:




I did have the main light (an AB800) more behind and above me this time as he suggested and that was a win I think.  Tough to pull off in a conference room tho.


I had to make it match the pose of the existing ones as best I could, which was a bit awkward, I'd have turned his head and body a bit differently and it would have helped to have had more room between him and the background, but if I did that it would totally fade out, and the flags on the existing ones were very prominent.  I actually did a few of my coworkers the same way since the setup was there, and if we had had more time I wanted to try posing them differently but that was not to be.  The final had to have a triangle of total black behind it and I fudged that in Lightroom but it left a terrible looking halo around his hair that I'm going to have to fix in full Photoshop at some point.


I'm learning every time I set out down this road but there is soooo much to learn and experience doesnt come quick.  I think I used a lighter touch with the AB this time and that made a big difference too, but I really need to read up more on this and find someone to let me experiment for a few hours in an air conditioned room...  Having the fire company guys and a few coworkers to try on every few months is good, but nobody has the patience to let me fiddle with things, it's been set up and roll people through it the best you can each time.  I didn't even wanna post the firemen portraits I did last month because of the issues I had there, but even that was a good learning experience.  Lesson #1 that day:  strobes vs. sunlight is haaaard to make look natural!


As always, brutally honest and painful critiques welcome...  I know it's not pro-worthy but I do think I'm improving step by step.


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