canon 75 300mm


Mount Rainier at Sunset by Marie West
Via Flickr:
At Magnuson Park in Seattle, WA

anonymous asked:

I have a question about photographing people with widely varied skin tones. There's a post floating around about how photography evolved as an explicitly racist technology, that film was originally designed to optimize capturing white faces. Presumably this has been (somewhat?) rectified, but I still struggle. I shoot w/ a Canon Rebel T4i (75-300mm lens) mostly sporting events, & I struggle to find settings that properly capture action when the athletes have a large range of skin tones. Advice?

I was thinking about your problem and when I thought about why this is happening it really does seem like cameras are still kinda racist.

I know in my logical mind it is a limitation of sensor technology and their inability to capture a large dynamic range, but it really does look suspect from a certain point of view. 

Here is what is going on. 

Let’s think about an 8 bit image. A standard JPEG. You can capture 256 tones per channel. These tones go from dark to light. However, they are not evenly distributed. 

Think about a series of 10 buckets. On the left is a very small bucket. As you go to the right, the buckets get progressively bigger until you reach a bigass bucket on the end.

These buckets collect tone data. Dark tones go in the small buckets on the left. Light tones go in the buckets on the right. Because the buckets on the right are much bigger, you can collect a lot more information about the light tones. The small buckets on the left can barely collect any information about the dark tones.

See what I mean? Doesn’t that seem like dark tones are getting the shaft? 

The good news is, if you shoot raw, most cameras are capturing 10-14 bit images and that makes all the buckets bigger. You can capture more data in the dark tone buckets, but the buckets on the left are still smaller.

There is a concept in digital photography called “exposing to the right.” This is where you intentionally overexpose just a little bit so that the darker tones in your image go into the bigger middle buckets. Therefore you collect more data and have more latitude to edit those tones in software. The tricky part is to not push the light tones so far to the right that you lose all detail whatsoever. 

Usually exposing to the right is just a matter of adjusting your exposure compensation 1/3 to a full stop. If you can push it farther without losing detail, that is fine too. You just have to keep an eye on your histogram when you are shooting. You can have a little clipping on the right of your histogram, but if you overexpose too much, all the white folks are going to look like ghosts.

Your images might look a little bright and washed out. That is okay. You can fix that later. 

Make sure you shoot in raw so you have more data (bigger buckets) to work with. Then in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop, you can balance out the tones in your photograph so that it looks the way it should. For people with lighter skin tones, you would probably futz with the highlights and whites sliders. For people with darker skin tones, you would probably raise the shadows and blacks sliders. And because you exposed to the right, you can make bigger adjustments. You have more data and the integrity of the image won’t fall apart. Once you get the image balanced, you can play around with contrast and other sliders to help it look more dynamic. 

I’m afraid there isn’t a great “in camera” solution to this problem. Not in the situations you are shooting. In a studio when you have control of the lighting, you can balance things out. But during a sporting event when you have little control over things, you just have to shoot raw and fix it in post. 

Also, for those curious, this is the article about how film photography was super racist. It is a good read, though depressing. 


  • Shoot in raw
  • Expose to the right (overexpose a teeny bit using exposure compensation)
  • Balance the tones in image editing software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or the raw image editor that came with your camera

I am a little worried this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, so if you are confused about the bucket analogy, I can try again.