Every Photographer Should Learn How Photograph Darker Skin Tones

Darker skin tones can still use some extra attention from photographers and even industry professionals like make-up artists and stylists.

Portrait and fashion photography should be an all-encompassing craft, especially at this time and age when we’re supposedly more open-minded and accepting of other cultures and perspectives. This means that photographers today should be able to use their expertise to create photos of darker skinned models and individuals in a way that highlights their natural beauty. A video by Buzzfeed reinforces this idea with a photoshoot done with dark-skinned models, encouraging photographers and even industry professionals like make-up artists and stylists to do the same.

While the video is from 2017, the issue of darker skin tones not having the right photographic treatment is most likely still an issue for a lot of people. We’ll even go as far as saying racism has always had its firm roots in the photography industry as far back as the 1950s, as the video also pointed out. Kodak films were notoriously calibrated for white skin, which in turn became the standard for a perfect color image.

“In the 1950s, most of the people who bought cameras in the US were white, so Kodak didn’t feel the need to expand their equipment for a wider range of skin tones,” the video elaborated. “As time went on, color palettes became more diverse. But some believe that the same standards for a perfect color image are still held in photography today.”

And the models who took part in the photo shoot had their own horror stories to prove that this problem still persists.

“I couldn’t really use the picture since it didn’t look like me.”

“I know that’s not the way I look, but that’s the way that I look on camera.”

“If that’s what the history of photography comes from, then I think it would be an accurate depiction to say that cameras themselves as the tool have lent themselves to how racism plays in mainstream media.”

With all that said, what can the photographers and creative professionals of today do in response to this? One model gave a very straightforward and relevant suggestion: “If you’re gonna be behind the camera, or you’re gonna do make-up, or you’re gonna do lights, you should have the responsibility to your craft to know how to make that work for all people.”

So, learn how to light darker skin–which can be different than lighter tones. Come up with projects that make ingenious use of their unique skin color and celebrate their beauty like this video has (and like this stunning play on contrasting skin color by Elena Iv-skaya). Don’t insult your dark-skinned models by lightening their color in post. We’re already at that era when every photographer has the means to make the craft work for everyone, so better get started with that sooner than later.


Screenshot image from the video by As/Is by Buzzfeed