How To Get Spot-On Accurate Skin Tones In Your Boudoir Shoots

In this article we’re going to explore white balance and color temperature. What they are and why they’re important to set accurately for your boudoir shoot. 

White balance for me, for a long time, was this kind of mysterious thing I didn’t really know much about. I had read about it but didn’t quite understand it all. I knew it was important but hey, most cameras today have auto white balance or settings with little icons you can dial up and you’re good to go… right?  

Well… yes and no.

For the most part those settings will serve you fairly well. The problem is that they’re only approximations for those different lighting scenarios that you’ll be shooting in.

Learning how to set the white balance for the exact lighting scenario you’ll actually be shooting in will give you the most accurate colors and skin tones. Which is important when shooting boudoir because us boudoir photographers shoot a lot of skin!

Shooting In RAW Verses Shooting In JPG

A quick mention regarding shooting in RAW verses shooting in JPG. 

If you shoot in RAW, which I recommend, your camera can capture a lot more digital information which gives you greater latitude when manipulating the color temperature afterwards in Lightroom, Photoshop, or whichever post-processing software you use.

This comes in handy when, even if you’ve shot with an accurate white balance, you decide afterwards that you want your images slightly cooler (blue) or slightly warmer (yellow).

When you shoot in JPG there’s a lot less information your camera can capture, thus giving you less latitude in which to manipulate the color temperature afterwards in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Shooting in JPG is less forgiving, meaning you’ll have to get your white balance more accurate from the get-go in-camera because you may not have enough digital information to correct it in post.

So, if you only shoot in JPG then it’s critical that you know how to properly set your white balance so that your clients look like earthlings and not aliens from another planet with greenish, bluish, or orange looking skin.

Back To Our Discussion on White Balance and Color Temperature

Understanding white balance and color temperature and how to set them accurately will elevate your understanding of light and give you much better images because the colors will be more accurate… which is what I think we should be striving for.

And just to reemphasize, because these various white balance settings are only estimates and approximations of the most common lighting scenarios we may be shooting under (i.e. sunlight, shade, flash, etc.)  they have their limitations.

That’s why learning how to set a custom white balance for the exact lighting scenario you’re shooting in, that can compensate for the exact color temperature, will give you the most accurate colors and skin tones in your images. 

This saves you time in post because the more you capture accurately in-camera, the less time you need to spend adjusting your images in Lightroom, Photoshop or some other post-processing software.

And, it will also serve you better when showing your client shots from the back of your camera.

What Is Color Temperature?

Every source of light whether from a tungsten lightbulb, a florescent light, the sun, a speedlite (flash) or studio strobe, an overcast sky, or the ambient light in the shade, emits a hue that is different and unique from all the other various light sources. 

That hue is its color temperature.

These different hues (or color temperatures) are measured in degrees Kelvin and affect what is being photographed. In other words, they cast their unique hues onto your scene and subject.

So, if you’re shooting under a florescent light, which can emit a greenish or yellowish hue, that’s going to cast itself onto your subject… rendering the colors in your image to be “off”.

In order to filter out that greenish or yellowish hue that a florescent light can emit and get accurate colors to the human eye, you set the white balance on your camera’s preset white balance to the florescent light setting (the florescent light tube icon).

By doing so, you’re telling your camera to digitally filter out that unwanted greenish/yellowish hue of that florescent light.

This will make the colors and skin tones in your shots more accurate. You want your whites to be white and not have any color tint to them (that is, if you’re not tinting them on purpose for a special effect). 

Now, here’s the thing… even though you may not be able to see these different hues that different light sources emit with your human eyes, your camera can, and will capture those hues onto its sensor and thus onto your images. 

This is because our brains are better at recognizing and interpreting colors under different lighting conditions than the processors in our cameras. 

Understanding Kelvin In Relation To Color Temperature

As mentioned earlier, the different hues that different light sources emit can be measured in degrees, but instead of using Celsius or Fahrenheit, we use Kelvin. That’s what the “K” stands for.

This is a reference guide of degrees Kelvin for various lighting scenarios. Knowing these degrees comes in handy if you want to set the color temperature manually on your camera.

You can also set the color temperature to any degree in between as well, like 6200K or 3400K. 

7000K — shade

6000K — cloudy

5900K — flash

5500K — sunlight

4000K — white florescent  

3200K — 2700K — tungsten/incandescent

1000K — 2000K — sunrise/sunset

1000K — candlelight

3 Ways To Set The White Balance/Color Temperature On Your Camera

There are three ways to set the white balance/color temperature on your camera.

They are:

Using the pre-selected white balance settings with the icons

Setting it manually by dialing in a specific degree Kelvin

Taking a custom white balance

Setting The White Balance Using the Pre-Selected Icon Settings

Probably the default for most photographers. It is by far the quickest and easiest, and like I said before, will serve you fairly well but keep in mind it’s probably not ideal. Or, if you’re a real stickler for getting it as accurate as possible… definitely not for you.

On Nikon

Press the “MENU” button on the back of the camera

Select the “SHOOTING MENU” (camera icon)

Select “WHITE BALANCE” 

Select from:

AUTO

Incandescent — light bulb icon

Fluorescent — fluorescent light tube icon

Direct sunlight — sun icon

Flash — arrow-lightening bolt icon

Cloudy — cloud icon

Shade — house casting a shadow icon

To dial in your own color temperature in degrees Kelvin

Select “K Choose color temp.” then just dial in your own degrees Kelvin from 2500 to 10,000

On Canon 

Press the “MENU” button on the back of the camera

Scroll to SHOOTING MENU 2 (camera icon with two dots) and select

Scroll down to “White balance” and select

Select from :

AWB (auto white balance)

Daylight — sun icon

Shade — house casting a shadow

Cloudy — cloud icon

Tungsten — light bulb icon

White fluorescent light — fluorescent light tube icon

Flash — arrow-lightening bolt

To dial in your own color temperature in degrees Kelvin…

Select “K” then use the Main Dial on top of the camera to dial in your degrees Kelvin in 100 degree increments from 2500 to 10,000 and press SET

Taking A Custom White Balance

The best method for getting the most accurate color temperature for the lighting scenario you’re shooting in is to perform a custom white balance.

This involves taking a photo of a neutral gray card that you can purchase on Amazon. I use this small collapsible one from “light dow” that comes with a nifty carrying case to boot. 

I like using this particular gray card because it has some off-white focus lines that allows your camera to focus onto the card, otherwise, without these lines your camera may have a hard time locking focus to capture a shot at all. And because it’s collapsable, it can fit easily into your pocket. 

(However, you can just switch your camera to Manual focus and take a shot)

I’ve included a link to Amazon here if you’re interested in checking it out.

Custom White Balance With Nikon (D800)

Press and hold the “WB” (white balance) button on top of the Release Mode Dial that’s located on the top left side of the camera.

With the dial on the back of the camera, scroll to the “PRE” setting. (You may have to scroll through all the pre-set icons along the way.)

While holding down the “WB” button, scroll to “d-1” with the front dial. It should continue to show “PRE” in the lower right corner of the top LCD display. 

Keep holding down the WB button until “PRE” starts to flash.

With “PRE” flashing, take a picture of your gray card under the lighting condition you’re shooting in. Just place the card as close to where your subject will be and fill the frame with the gray card.

Ta-dah!

You’ve just set the white balance for the lighting condition you’ll be shooting in.

The other “d” settings, like “d2”, “d3”, and “d4” are so you can store up to four different custom white balances that have four different lighting scenarios.

So, lets say you’re doing a boudoir shoot in the front room of your studio with natural light. You can set your front room white balance and store it in “d1”.

Then perhaps you’re doing some shots with a speedlite or strobe. You can take another custom white balance and store it in “d2” (using the flash or strobe to fire while shooting your gray card).

Then you can go back and forth from the natural light setup to the strobe setup, and have an accurate white balance for both — the first stored in d1, the second in d2.

Note: You’ll want to make sure your exposure settings (f-stop, ISO, shutter speed) are where you want them before you take your custom white balance. They don’t have to be exact, but be as close to the settings you think you’ll be using. 

I’d recommend setting your exposure with your subject.

Have them sit (or stand) in the spot where you’ll be shooting them, adjust your exposure to where you want it, then have them hold the gray card so you can take a picture of it to set your custom white balance. 

Once that’s done, set the gray card aside and you can be assured that you’ll be getting the most accurate colors and skin tones under that particular lighting scenario. 

Custom White Balance With Canon (5D Mark IV)

Set your subject in the lighting scenario you’ll be shooting in, then adjust the settings on your camera (f-stop, ISO, shutter speed) until you’re happy with the exposure you’re getting.

If you’re shooting a person, have them hold the gray card up to their face.

Take a picture of the gray card so that it fills most or all of the frame.

Hit the “MENU” button on the back of the camera.

Scroll to SHOOTING MENU 2 (camera icon with two dots) and select

Scroll down to “Custom White balance” and select

When it gives you the option to select that photo you just took of the gray card, select OKAY.

(If that’s not the correct photo, just scroll through your images until it appears.)

Now, go back into your White Balance settings and select the custom white balance icon… it’s the one with the white square above the two triangles. 

Special Note

The only thing that can throw a wrench into this whole scenario is if you’re shooting in a room that has, let’s say, pink walls. If your subject is standing close enough to that pink wall it will cast a hue onto your subject which will affect their skin tones (or any other strong color).

If that’s the case, then either move your subject away from the wall, or cover it up with something white. 

Setting Your Color Temperature Manually

Setting your color temperature manually, by dialing in a specific number, is for people who really understand how different degrees of Kelvin will affect your image — and is probably the most advanced method for setting your white balance.

It can, however, be used to fine tune one of the various pre-sets.

For example, let’s say you’re shooting outdoors under a mid-day sun and you set your white balance to the daylight setting (the sun icon). That will automatically set the color temperature to be 5500K. 

But let’s say you want your image to be a bit cooler than what 5500K is giving you. So, you go into the manual setting and dial it up to 5700K. 

Or, you like a slightly warmer look to your outdoor shots. You can adjust the manual color temperature setting down some to 5300K. 

Setting your color temperature manually is for photographers who either know exactly what a certain degree of Kelvin will produce, or to fine tune one of the pre-sets either warmer or cooler. 

Setting the Color Temperature Manually On a Nikon

I have a Nikon D800 so that’s what I’ll be using to explain how to set the color temperature manually. I’m assuming other Nikon models will be similar or at least fairly close to the steps I’ll be outlining below. 

— Press the “Menu” button on the back of the camera

— Select the “Shooting Menu” (camera icon)

— Scroll to “White Balance” and select

— Scroll to “Choose color temp.” and select

— Adjust the digital readout with whatever degree you want using the multi-selector — its   range is from  2500 – 10000

Setting the Color Temperature Manually On a Canon

I have a Canon 60D so that’s what I’ll be using to explain how to set the color temperature manually. I’m assuming other Canon models will be similar or at least fairly close to the steps I’ll be outlining below.

— Press the Quick Control button (“Q”)

— Maneuver over to the White Balance frame

— select with the “SET” button which is in the middle of the multi-selector wheel

— scroll to the “K” setting

— set your color temperature with the main dial on top of the camera from 2500 to 10000

You can also go into the long-form menu and set it.

— Hit the “Menu” button

— Maneuver over to the Shooting Menu 2 frame (camera icon with 2 dots)

— scroll down to “White Balance” and select

— scroll to the “K” setting

— set your color temperature with the main dial on top of the camera from 2500 to 10000

Making Sense Of It All

I hope this makes some sense to you, but don’t worry if you’re not understanding it all. It can take some time to grasp this whole white balance/color temperature thing. 

Just keep reading about it and watching videos on the subject and one day it will all just click into place in your mind. 

It’s like learning how to ride a bike. You try and try but keep falling down, then one day you find that balance point and suddenly you have an understanding of how it all works. 

I hope this article has been helpful to you, and if you know of someone else who may benefit from it, feel free to pass it along.

Thanks for your time!

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounge Boudoir

Bella Mitri Boudoir

Charles Mitri

Charles Mitri is an award-winning boudoir photographer and also founder and writer of LoungeBoudoir.com, an educational blog and resource website for boudoir photographers worldwide. He lives in Yorktown, Virginia.

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