Photography White Balance Technique

Most models today watch what they eat and have read or heard about melanoma, skin cancer, so many will not utilize the sun’s harmful UV rays to tan their skin outdoors anymore than going to a tanning salon. Many actually use “spray on tans” or apply the tans themselves with liquid tanners. The disadvantage to the latter method of instant tanning is that most models don’t do a great job of uniformly applying the liquid tan, thus their body often has streak marks or splotches, not to mention their hands will photograph dark orange. The digital cameras are so sharp today that these self-tan streaks often stand out like mottled skin in a photo.

Tan Models Skin Photo

This photo of Sheila from one of our photography workshops not only was shot at 6000K for a more “tanned” look, but it was selected as my fourth book cover.

I personally tell my models, “don’t get no stinking tan, sprayed on or not.” I’m not a fan of dramatic tan lines on the model’s bodies either.” I let the models know I can color their skin any color they want using white balance in the camera. My experienced models not only follow this advice, most of them I don’t have to remind anymore as they love the hues of yellow, red and gold I can create on their bodies without fiddling with tanning beds, hot sun, and liquid applications.

This is something I teach at all my photography workshops and it’s a simple technique. Just set your camera white-balance to 6000K, which tricks the camera into believing that the light source is a cool color than the traditional flash or daylight Kelvin of 5000 or 5500. The camera only understands what you program it through the manual white balance settings and it will adjust the white balance accordingly.

6000-Kelvin temperature light is cool-colored light, the camera naturally adds warmth to the overall scene including the subjects. On cameras that don’t allow you to manually set your white balance, you can try the cloudy day or shade settings for your white balance. This technique helps create that “older Maxim” look in your images too.

The use of white balance made for cool light to create warmth didn’t just come from the digital age of cameras, this technique was done in film by simply changing film types, or emulsions, like switching from the now discontinued Kodak E100S transparency film to the Kodak E100SW film, the “SW” stood for saturated warm.

Sometimes photographers would also shoot daylight film with tungsten light sources and put an 80A blue filter on the front of their lens. This technique would cancel most of the warmth from tungsten lighting but still leave a tinge of warmth on your subject’s skin, and if there was anything blue in the scene, especially blue eyes, they would become a more saturated blue. This technique is also very helpful when shooting sunsets too for creating dramatic skies vs. drab gray skies.

White Balance Tan Technique

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough photographed at one of our photography workshops using the 6000K white balance technique.

During the digital revolution white balance was a new term and unique to most film photographers, including professional photographers, and only those with video backgrounds understood it. In the beginning of digital photography, inexperienced photographers would wait for the “golden hour” to capture that warmth of the sun at its last or first hour, only to find the warmth had disappeared because their cameras were set to “auto” white balance. Auto white balance is designed to ensure that a known white, 100 IRE, will be reproduced as 100 IRE white under a given light source and in the beginning of the digital photography age not much was written about white balance so many photographers lost some sweet, golden light to automatic, or “AWB,” white balance, especially before RAW formats were introduced.

Today you’ll find some photographers that argue it’s simple; just shoot RAW, adjust it in post. While that’s fine, it’s easier for a photographer to determine the final result of what they are seeking to capture when they get it right in the camera, not in software later. Besides, with today’s camera you can get instant gratification and verification of what you captured on your camera’s LCD screen. I make all my adjustments and leave RAW to those that like their steaks rare.

Of note, when you use this technique, or even adjust white-balance in RAW processing, make sure and use the Snapshots technique in postproduction to make their teeth and whites of the eyes white again. No one likes their models with yellow teeth and eyes. With that I close and as always I ask that you not forget the men and women who serve so proudly to protect our nation; God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.

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