I have a theory, and I'd like to hear readers' thoughts.
It seems that photography forums are awash with an extraordinary number of "Help with skintones please!" threads involving outdoor photographs. Very often the problem is a too-high Cyan reading in the skin. This can be fixed with Levels or Curves or whatever, but that's not the point. The point is that the overall white balance is invariably too cool in these photos.
I've written before about the importance of white balance for skintones. Get it wrong, and all else becomes much harder. There's no doubt that white balance is an art that takes a while to learn, but I think there's another issue here. I think it stems from our cultural and natural mis-judgement of some colours, particularly greens.
In this post I discussed "the lies they tell us in Kindergarten". I wrote about how we are taught that grass and trees are green; but in reality they are often very yellow. Even as adults we make this errant assumption, and I think it's so firmly embedded in our brains that we "see" green where none exists.
So ... when we're adjusting an outdoor shot, we instinctively cool down the white balance to add more cyan to yellow foliage, making it the green we think it should be. Result? Incorrect white balance, leading to difficult skin editing. If we adjust to the warmer white balance, the skin is great, but our senses revolt against "all that yellow in the grass".
I've even seen threads entitled "What's wrong with my Grey Card?", where the poster has complained of poor Custom White Balance results outdoors. Truth is, the Card doesn't lie - it just doesn't always tell us a truth we believe.
I wish I could say I have vast depth of research and analysis to back this up - I don't. I have several years of observation, and a handful of relevant threads and discussions, but nothing scientific.
So please, dear readers, let me know your thoughts - have you found outdoor skintones problematic? If so, have you observed a white balance trend such as I've discussed? I'm particularly keen to hear from you CWBers - do you trust your grey card as much outdoors as indoors? Or have you doubted it sometimes?
Monday, May 17, 2010
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