Thread: Has the skin tone debate always been total bogus?

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  1. #1 Has the skin tone debate always been total bogus? 
    I always wondered about debates over skin tone rendition. There are thousands of natural skin tones. How can you say whether a system reliably reproduces a skin tone. We don't care if other tones are accurately reproduced. Do the BLM guys say the skin tones are off? Of course Kodak used to make different films for the African and North American markets. But all tones are off ... do we care? Really? Why? How do I know my red is your red .... our eyes are all different to a certain extent. You can easily find Ten Supermodels in NYC with radically different skin tones .... are they all off ... of course they are, it's not real .... it's an image .... coming to your brain from a different place.
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  2. #2  
    Senior Member Mark Phelan's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
    One of the first things we learn is, color is subjective. From that vantage point mankind has been arguing what is "true" color rendition. I always laugh at this because I remember not too long ago when people were arguing the differences between Kodachrome and Velvia, and which was better.

    Being colorblind, I'm marginalized as not being pure enough, so it's from this vantage point I laugh and watch the fights. And don't forget to talk about LUTS, so we can create our own little perfect world according to our "vision".

    The debate will be forever as long as man can draw a breath.
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  3. #3  
    Also when matching the Supermodel's skin tone .... do we want the shade .... before or after she puts on all her makeup?
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  4. #4  
    I always wondered about debates over skin tone rendition.
    It really looks like you’re trying to start one. I smell troll.
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  5. #5  
    Moderator Phil Holland's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Los Angeles
    Kodak's more recent era color science has moved towards a fairly accurate capture, still a bit stylized, but we're in the Vision 3 era and have been for a long time. Pretty much Vision 2 and 3 look great to me on a variety of skin tones. I see much of the criticism mainly over older stocks and still films, in which case were built on and grown on concepts back when they were still "unlocking better color technology". But if you get a roll of Portra today even you have a pretty lush palette to capture all sorts of skin tones on.

    Much of the criticism as I mentioned really stems from the evolution of capturing better and purer red hues. Something mirrored in digital technology's journey as well.

    Moving over to digital and "quality of skin tone".

    Most of the time when it comes to skin people see light contamination or don't understand that there's a lot of color in full spectrum light sources like the sun. A good white balance or adjustment even of the movement of the white point can make a load of difference. Combine this with some of the not-so-good LED lighting crappy spectrum, and it's really only been "good" for a few years, you can get some really meh skintones.

    And a real answer from a creative perspective.

    We generally discuss skin in a fairly myopic way, but I'm much more of John Singer Sarget/Craig Mullins sort of fellow. You are working with light and both would explain the color of the skin itself isn't really the thing, but rather the tonal values are. Meaning you can certainly have a green key light and still a pleasing skin tone. This comes from understanding that you want something exposed at a certain level and are looking for separating from other aspects in the frame.

    I'm much more in the camp of use light to illuminate what you want to create.

    Circling back to digital. There are certainly times when sensors, optics, or IR muddy the waters of a good skin tone. That's also interfering with generally good color overall. Magenta or Green casts are usually the thing that is most off putting. This is why we have Color Science Filters and do our best to block, reflect, cut, or absorb IR wavelengths (and UV for that matter). It's also why it's important to use better ND filtration as well. Specifically since all skin lands in the reddish to orange to yellow to yellow-green spectrum all the way down to deeper browns, when you muddy those specific hues up and in that process removing some of the potential captured color like the subtle near neutrals that do actually occur in natural skin tones, well, straight up it's just muddy colors.

    In the RED world where you could experience the most really was on Mysterium-X and that was when we were still primarily dealing with dye based NDs. Under certain color temperatures of sources it was nice to use some sort of IR filter and/or a color correction filter to feed the sensor something that was more ideal. Same thing happened in the Arri world if you ever used to use hot mirrors back in the day. With RED Dragon onward has been Buffalo Bill levels of flavor town when it comes to skin tones. Weird gross cross analogy there, sorry :)
    Phil Holland - Cinematographer - Los Angeles
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  6. #6  
    Senior Member Nick Morrison's Avatar
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    Nov 2011
    Skintone is important, it's what defines a good camera.

    Fixing it in post is always a step backwards.
    Nick Morrison
    Founder, Director & Lead Creative
    // SMALL GIANT //
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  8. #8  
    Phil Holland said: "I'm much more in the camp of use light to illuminate what you want to create."

    I'm in the same camp. I didn't start in that camp. I started in the camp that believed the camera should do the heavy lifting. I learned through experience that lighting is everything and that the camera's job is to not f*ck it up. RED DRAGON, for me, was the first digital motion camera to do that. Helium and Monstro were valuable upgrades to that.
    Michael Tiemann, Chapel Hill NC

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