How do I adjust for asian skin tones?

Started Dec 30, 2012 | Discussions thread
Mark Scott Abeln
Mark Scott Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 11,024
CMYK and other considerations

dpyy wrote:

I a newbie photographer and I've been playing around with a lot of PP (aperture and some plugins too). Having a lot of fun. But I run into the problem of skin tone very often. After making a lot of adjustments to the photo sometimes the skin tone becomes off even if it came out right from my camera (nex6).

So I guess it's a two part questions. Firstly, how do I ensure that my skin tone is right just looking at it with my naked eyes? Sometimes I feel like I've got it right with the adjustments but someone else will walk in and say "That's too green!". And then secondly, how do I ensure that the skin tone is accurately representing asian when I think a lot of software autocorrects for caucasians?

It is hard to determine if the RGB skin colors are plausible simply by looking at them just by looking at your monitor, especially if it isn’t calibrated.  Even if your monitor is calibrated, you still might have problems especially if your eyes are tired or of a bright light is shining on your monitor.

The first thing you ought to do to get good flesh tones is to ensure that your image is accurately white balanced. An objectively neutral object, one that reflects all light frequencies equally such as a white balance target, should be objectively neutral in your image by having equal RGB numbers. A greenish overall color cast will harm skin tones. A slightly warm color cast, with a yellowish or slightly orangeish color, often improves skin tones.

Lighting with non-continuous spectra, such as fluorescent, gas discharge, or LED lights, can harm skin tones with a green color cast that cannot be easily removed  See this article:

LED lighting, we are told, is particularly bad for Asian skin tones, and generally causes makeup to not match well with skin.

A good quality continuous spectrum light source, such as daylight or incandescent lighting will help you get good skin tones.

Dan Margulis, in his book Professional Photoshop, 5th Edition, gives us information on color numbers for skin (assuming images are accurately white balanced). RGB isn’t a good color space for evaluating skin tones, but CMYK (which is supported by Photoshop) can be used for this purpose. You need to select bare skin (without makeup) that is well exposed under your key light with no color channel either blown or plugged.

For all human skin, Margulis tells us that the yellow channel is always greater than or equal to the the magenta channel. The condition where magenta and yellow are equal are found with the palest Caucasians and the darkest Africans. For East Asians and many Hispanics, the yellow channel will be typically be significantly larger than the value for the magenta channel — commonly 10-15 points higher. While dark-skinned Africans can have cyan and black color channel values that can be very high, Caucasians, east Asians, and Hispanics typically have black channels of zero and cyan channels lower than magenta. For Caucasians, the cyan channel will be about 1/5 to 1/3 the value of the magenta, while for east Asians and Hispanics the cyan will be in the range of 1/4 to maybe 1/2 of the magenta value. For south Asians, the cyan will tend towards a higher number while yellow will not be so much greater than magenta as found with east Asians.

So generally, for typical east Asian skin tones, you should have Y > M > C > K.

Green skin tone means that you have a deficiency of the magenta channel, with a surplus of yellow and cyan. Even if your software does not support CMYK colors, you can still do a quick check by using one of the RGB-CMYK converters found online.

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