Rendering Tones in Portraiture

by William Lulow

In the days of film it was often necessary to decide how one wanted to record skin tones. You either wanted them light, dark or in the middle. Especially if you were shooting in Black&White, it often made a difference in how a particular skin tone was rendered. If the tone was gray, it most always had more detail than if it was shown lighter. Somehow, lighter skin tones were more like fashion photographs than actual portraits. So, we were taught to decide how much detail we wanted to show and altered exposures as needed.

Today, it is much easier to change how we show skin tones just by using Photoshop. We can establish a three-stop range just by using the “Curves” tool. Below is an example of doing this in the camera. The images are basically one-stop different. You can then tweak this in Photoshop if you like.