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5 Tips for Taking Photos of Models with Dark Skin Tones

It’s the job of a professional photographer to make their subjects look and feel beautiful and comfortable in photographs. But it often takes skill and experience to perfectly capture certain features, for exampledark skin tones. Despite advancements in camera technology and a growing awareness of and commitment to diversity in the industry, a photographer may initially have difficulty finding the right lighting, exposure, and colour balance when photographing subjects with melanin-rich complexions. 

Disclaimer: This post is a collaboration

Yet, with the right techniques and perspective, it can become easier for photographers like you to celebrate the rich diversity of dark skin tones in your work and afford subjects with darker skin complexions the spotlight they deserve. Let’s explore some practical tips and strategies for photographers seeking to enhance their skills when it comes to capturing the beauty of models with dark skin tones: 

1) Get to Know Your Subject’s Skin Overtones and Undertones

Skin tones can vary widely, even within individuals with dark complexions. To accurately capture their natural beauty, you shouldfamiliarise yourself with skin overtones and undertones and how they apply to your subject. 

Overtones refer to the surface colour of the skin, which is often influenced by factors such as lighting conditions and environmental surroundings. Dark skin tones can have a range of overtones, from warm golden hues to cooler undertones of red or blue. 

Undertones, on the other hand, are the subtle hues beneath the surface of the skin, which play a significant role in determining the overall complexion. Undertones can be warm, cool, or neutral, and they may not always be immediately visible to the naked eye.

To accurately capture your model’s skin tones, take the time to observe and analyse the undertones present. This will help you choose appropriate lighting, backgrounds, and clothing to complement their complexion and enhance the overall aesthetic of the photograph.

2) Choose Backgrounds That Complement the Model’s Skin Tone

The choice of background colour is another factor that can significantly impact the way a model’s skin tone is portrayed in a photograph. If you can select a background that properly complementsyour model’s skin tone, you’ll be able to create visually captivating images that truly celebrate the unique and rich quality of their complexion. 

With this in mind, it’s important to book a photo studio that offers a wide range of background colours that you can choose from. When searching “photo studio hire near me” online, find out if the studios around your area carry the background options you’re looking for.

To highlight the warmth and depth of your model’s skin tone, select backgrounds that come in earthy tones, rich jewel colours, and vibrant hues among others. You can also experiment with contrasting colours to create more visual interest and draw attention to the model’s other features. For example, pairing a model with deep ebony skin against a popping forest green or gold backdrop can create a striking contrast that highlights their facial structure as well as their skin. 

3) Find the Balance between Overexposure and Underexposure

Achieving the correct exposure is also crucial for accurately capturing the beauty of dark skin tones. Overexposure can result in washed-out highlights and loss of detail, while underexposure can lead to muddy shadows and a lack of definition. 

One way to help you get the exposure right is to adjust your exposure settings using the histogram on your camera’s display. Monitor yourexposure levels and avoid clipping in the highlights or shadows. Aim for a balanced histogram that extends across the entire tonal range without peaks or gaps.

When metering the exposure, prioritise your model’s skin tones. Use spot metering or manual exposure mode to meter specifically for the skin tones, ensuring that they’re correctly exposed even if other elements in the scene are brighter or darker.

4) Use Soft, Diffused Lighting

Harsh lighting can create unflattering shadows and highlights on darker skin tones, emphasising imperfections and creating a less flattering appearance for your subject. Soft, diffused lighting, on the other hand, can help create a smooth, even illumination that enhances their natural features. 

Utilise natural light sources such as window light or outdoor shade to achieve soft, diffused lighting. Position your subject near the light source to take advantage of the soft and indirect illumination that it provides. Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible, as it can be harsh and create strong shadows on darker skin tones.

If shooting indoors or in harsh lighting conditions, use light modifiers such as umbrellas, softboxes, or diffusers to soften and diffuse the light. These modifiers help to spread the light evenly across the subject, reducing harsh shadows and highlights.

5) Focus on the Details

Lastly, make an effort to capture the intricate details of your model’s skin to add depth and texture to your photographs. This approach is key towards enhancing the overall impact of the image. 

You can use a macro lens to get up close and capture fine details with precision, which is particularly useful for showing the texture of the skin, hair, and any make-up or accessories the model may be wearing. You can also experiment with different aperture settings to control the depth of field and selectively focus on specific areas of the image. A shallow depth of field can help isolate the subject and create a soft, blurred background, while a deeper depth of field ensures that more of the scene is in focus.

Part of honing your craft as a photographer is achieving mastery at portraying people from different backgrounds and walks of life, subjects with darker complexions included. With these tips, you’ll be able to improve your skills and confidently capture images that honour your model and their story.