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I'm shooting vlog-like videos with a Canon SL1. My skin looks very blotchy, pasty, and red (see below). Anyway to fix that?

Here are the settings:

I can think of some ideas, but not sure what's more important here or what to do:

  • makeup
  • post-production edits
  • exposure settings
  • new face?
  • Have you try to tune colour balance? – Romeo Ninov Jun 13 '15 at 7:02
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    Offtopic. The light is too simetrycal. Try puting one closer and the other further away. - Inclusive try one closer and the other to the side, or behind you a bit. – Rafael Jun 16 '15 at 15:51
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    As I understand it, certain photographic lights have the effect of accentuating blood vessels etc. under the skin, due to the wavelength composition of the lights and the way that these wavelengths penetrate the skin and reflect of muscle an blood vessels. You might be seeing this so different lights with a different K rating might help. – Steve Ives Jun 18 '15 at 9:36
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My thoughts about smoothing out skin tones:

  • Careful not to underexpose. You could probably expose a little bit hotter, putting the skin tones into the top third of the histogram where the S-curve starts to flatten more, being more flattering.

    Another thing, that image seems over-saturated, which isn't helping.

    Here's a quick fiddle I had just to see how changing exposure and saturation might help:

  • Experiment with lighting placement. Try having the umbrellas closer to the subject and maybe try more to the side, too. Have one side lighter than the other to create some contrast, as counter-intuitive as that sounds it might distract from the local contrast in the skin tones.

As you have already mentioned, make-up. Give it serious consideration.

  • Hey thanks a lot for playing with this. I'll give all your suggestions a shot. When you say underexposed and oversaturated, is there a recommendation on tweaking my ISO and aperture (shutter speed is fixed since this is video). I've been playing with it, as you suggested with the histogram up, but because I'm both the photographer and the subject, makes it quite tough to calibrate without a baseline. Anyway, thanks again! – Kyle Jun 17 '15 at 3:50
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The single best thing you can do at recording/shooting time is to swap your 6500K (cool daylight) lights for tungsten-balanced (2800-3400K) lights. You'll still want a high CRI, of course, but taking the temperature down vastly increases the weight of the red end of the spectrum. We don't see differences in colour (hue and saturation) nearly as well as we see differences in brightness, and redder lights mean that reds will be relatively brighter, and that the blue and green components of your skin tones will be relatively darker (so everything, in a sense, gets redder). Even when you use a tungsten white balance, the extra oomph at the red end will work wonders; the darker, redder patches you see now will be closer in brightness to everything else, and the white balance shift needs to shift all of your skin tones out of the red. No need for a big outlay to test the concept; you can bump your ISO way up and use good tungsten-balanced household bulbs before paying the big bucks for high-wattage lamps.

Makeup helps, but it's a bit of a pain. You need to be freshly clean-shaven (or be sporting a full beard) - scruff won't work unless you're really meticulous. Same problems with eyebrows and so forth. The stuff cakes on anything it can cake on. And if you're wearing an open collar, you have to keep going until you hit clothing, otherwise you look like you're wearing makeup. If it were a big production (or something with ambitions to be a big production), then it might be worth the hassle, and even then having a makeup person is much, much easier than doing it yourself.

Fixing any remaining problems in post depends on the sophistication of your software. With stills, almost anything beyond the "for dummies" software will give you multiple ways of fixing the problem. Nothing moves around in a still. Higher-end video grading software will let you track yourself so that adjustments you make to the skin will only apply to the skin (and not, say, to product packaging or anything else you may decide to show on camera). There are also specialty plugins such as Imagenomic's Portraiture for Video that will do the job, but you might not like the Hollywood Plastic People™ effect it will probably render.

Some combination of warmer (lower-temperature) lighting, tweaking of colour/white balance and perhaps some minimal makeup (a very light foundation) can overcome all but the worst problems. But try the lighting swap first; you may be surprised at how far that goes.

  • Ok sweet, I feel like my skin needs to be less red, but I'll give it a shot with the tungsten -- sounds like you know your stuff. – Kyle Jun 23 '15 at 4:05
  • @Emile - I'll admit it's somewhat counterintuitive. Okay, very counterintuitive. – user40631 Jun 23 '15 at 6:47
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I suggest you take the photo (in RAW) with a neutral grey card, and use the card to set the white balance in Lightroom or whatever postprocessing software you use.

Another thing to consider is that RAW processing can vary dramatically between the camera's jpg renderer and different software packages. I thought Capture One (free trial, IIRC) did a particularly good job with Caucasian skin tones.

You could also try Lightroom/PS color filters (i.e. cyan would tone down the reddish areas).

The picture looks a bit dark, and you could use some more light, especially if it let you shoot at the optimal ISO (which is probably lower than 800).

  • Ok cool, I'll take a look at some post-production options and getting more light. I did get a better shot with the SL1 set to the portrait/face mode but then it's constantly recalibrating during the video shot. Thanks again for your help! – Kyle Jun 15 '15 at 2:36

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