3 Tips for Getting Great Skin Tones Using Adobe Camera Raw

3 Tips for Getting Great Skin Tones Using Adobe Camera Raw

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Skin tones can be one of the more difficult aspects of a photograph to master. Getting pleasing skin tones will make your image appear more eye-catching and attractive. If you know the right steps to take, skin can be pretty simple to master. Using these three simple tricks, using only Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), your skin tones will appear more balanced and pleasing to the eye.

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Note: working in Lightroom you can do the this as well, because the sliders and options are the same!

White Balance

When trying to get great looking skin tones, the first thing you should pay attention to is the white balance. Correct white balance will set the stage for great skin tones. If the white balance is too cool, your skin will appear gray or bluish. On the other hand, if the white balance is too warm, the skin will look yellow or orange. Neither of these options are very pleasing to the eye, and make the skin more difficult to work with later on.

To see if your white balance is accurate, use the white balance targeted adjustment tool. It looks like an eye-dropper and is located at the top of the screen. It is the third tool over from the left. Click on the dropper, then click on an area of your photo that is white. The whites of the eyes are a good place to start. This should give you a good indication of where the white balance should be set. If your image still appears too warm or cool to your taste, use the temperature slider located to the right of your screen, it is the first one. Adjust this by sliding it to the right or left until your get a pleasing white balance. You may have to adjust Tint as well.

Whitebalance1

Exposure

Next, make sure your exposure is correct. Take a look at the histogram located in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Ideally, you want it to look like a smooth bell curve, with the high point of the curve right in the middle. Check to make sure that the curve does not go too far to the left or the right. This may indicate that your photo is over or underexposed, causing your skin tones to either be gray and dark, or too bright and blown-out in some spots.

Exposure 2

If your curve does fall too far to one side, use the exposure slider to fix it. Located three sliders down on the right hand side of your screen, move it either left or right. Watch your histogram. When the majority of the curve is in the middle, you’ve got it! In some photos, there will be parts of your image that are very bright or dark, and cause your histogram to spike on parts of the curve. This happens often when you have a bright sky in the background. If this is the case, your curve will be off the chart on the right edge of the histogram. In an image like this, you would look at where the majority of your curve lies and ignore the parts of the curve that are out of range.

For more information see: How to Read and Use Histograms

Luminance

Finally, to give your skin tones just a little more brightness you will want to locate the luminance sliders (look for the HSL panel, the L stands for Luminance). You will see a horizontal strip of buttons directly under the histogram on the right panel. The fourth one to the left is HSL/Grayscale, click on that button. After selecting that option, three tabs will appear. Click on the Luminance tab. Choose the orange slider, which is two down, and move it to the right. You will notice that this affects mainly the skin in your photo and leaves the other areas of the image untouched. The more you move it to the right, the brighter the skin will appear. Keep moving the orange slider back and forth until the skin is the brightness you prefer.

Luminance 2

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Once you have adjusted your RAW image using these three steps, you can open it up in Photoshop to do any fine tuning or adjustments on the remainder of your photo. Your skin tones, however, should already look great and need little, if any additional work.

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Do you have any other tips for making great looking skin tones using ACR? Please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Emily Supiot is a family and child photographer at Cozy Clicks Photography located in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a mom of four children all under the age of seven and a part time college professor. Her work is bold and colorful, and strongly influenced by the Arizona landscapes. See more of her work on her website, of follow on Facebook or Instagram.

  • Siddhesh Mangela

    Awesome Article.
    Thanks Emily

  • Thank you, Emily, a timely and helpful article. Yesterday, I took photos of my 10-year-old son in bright sunshine holding a trophy he had won at a football (soccer) school. His team shirt was white, and just using the dropper on the white shirt altered the white balance beautifully. I didn’t add much orange in Luminance, though, because he’s a redhead!

  • Kirk Billingsley

    That is an easy and useful tool to use. Thanks a bunch!

  • katansi

    This should be specified to say it’s for white people or certain light skin tones. There are a lot of different tones In human skin and this doesn’t include ranges outside of Caucasian. For instance a histogram appears day have different ranges if your subject is dark skinned with a dark background. You probably wouldn’t wat to adjust orange that way in someone with olive skin because they may turn out jaundiced looking.

  • norad

    So, how does this work with tan/brown kids?

  • These are all great tips! Yes, you can manually adjust WB in post processing, however, I find getting it right in camera a HUGE time-saver. Using a grey card, expodisc, or the Kelvin method will all get you there.

  • Kristen Carter

    These are great starting points, although I find that using white as an indicator is not always accurate to give good skin tones. Adjusting white balance for the overall image in ACR and then selectively adjusting the skin tones in PS often yields better results (and allows flexibility for the range of colors in skin tones).

  • Emily Supiot

    Thank Siddhesh! And you’re welcome:)

  • Emily Supiot

    Good! I’m glad it worked for you here:)

  • Emily Supiot

    Thanks Trina! Great points, getting the WB right in camera is ideal. That is something I seem to struggle with and it might be because many of my subjects are moving toddlers and my lighting seems to change rapidly with their rapid little feet:) I always come back to double checking in ACR.

  • Emily Supiot

    Hi Katansi! You are right. Thanks for bringing up this point. These methods are probably most ideal for lighter toned skins and I didn’t mean to be insensitive by not bringing that up. These tips are definitely not a one size fits all method and while these tips may work on darker tones at times, sometimes they might not even work on the lighter tones. It really depends on the photo, the lighting and of course, the individual you are taking a photo of.

  • Emily Supiot

    You’re welcome Kirk! Thanks for taking the time to read.

  • Emily Supiot

    Hi Kristen! You are right, there are a lot of times where I do have to adjust the colors/tones more in PS too. It really depends on the photo for me, but just as you mentioned, these are always my starting points. Sometimes it just works and these steps are all I have to do!

  • Emily Supiot

    Great question Norad and thanks for reading! There really isn’t a perfect answer. I mentioned in a few discussion threads above that these steps won’t always work on every photo. They are dependent on many factors, one of which is the various skin tones of individuals. These steps are always where I start, so even with darker skinned subjects you still want to have good white balance and exposure. Your histogram will probably have different ranges with darker skins. You may or may not use the luminance slider. Play around and see if it works for the photo you’re working with.

  • Ayuba Tanko

    Wow! Truely an eye opener. Thanks dear.

  • Grant McKenna

    Hi Emily, I find that by using my select tool to highlight a subject and adjusting their skin tone also helps a lot especially when photographing multiple subjects in one photo. In PS Elements I use the Correct Skin Tones tool a lot! I find this works pretty well! Thank you for the article!! Grant

  • I wish there was a complete tutorial on how the post-processing was performed on any of these photos (I mean, not just ACR, but everything done in PS too)!

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  • Emily Supiot

    Maybe in the future Aminul! There are not too many other steps in these particular photos so that definitely could be an easy short tutorial:)

  • Emily Supiot

    Thanks for reading Ayuba!

  • Emily Supiot

    Thanks Grant! I’ll have to give this a try. I’m always playing around with the different tools and learning more about PS all the time:)

  • Thanks Emily! Now I just hope I see that article (of all the posts that gets published here) if you do publish the tutorial. 🙂

  • Sodrul

    Thanks for the tip on Luminance, I haven’t used it so will definitely try it out.

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  • Emily Supiot

    You’re welcome! I use it all the time:)

  • Jill Wasiewicz

    Great tips, thanks! I agree, I would LOVE to see a tutorial on PS on any of these shots, you’ve really made them come alive!

  • ARC is a good starting point but the problem I have with it is that you cannot mask back the other colors/hues that will be affected when you use the H/S/L in ARC or Lr. I would say just set the white/black points in ARC and do the rest of the adjustments in PS where you can mask other colors back.

  • Ulises

    Hi, can you tell how to change the colors of the bars and the flowers to red?

  • This was sooooooo helpful!!! I never knew about luminance to help with skin tones 🙂

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