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  • Writer's pictureGilbert Carosin

The secret to photographing dark complexion skin

Updated: Jul 6, 2023


dark complexion skin model posing
Its all about control of the highlight no hotspot no hard reflection

While dark skin is extremely beautiful, photographing dark complexion skin can be very tricky without the right tool. The main goal is simply to control the highlight as dark skin is extremely sensitive to it, but thats easier said than done and if you are not careful you will end up with a hotspot on your model.


First grab the biggest modifier you have in the studio, ideally get a very large reflective umbrella to eliminate the hot spot. Soft light is super important , the result is simply amazing skin tone and shadow to highlight transition. While this is true for any skin type, when it comes to photographing dark complexion skin super soft light is simply a must for perfect skin tone, this will also eliminate any need for retouching ( i never retouch my picture ) so the bigger the modifier the softer the light, the better the skin tone and texture.


A dark complexion  skin girl from Nigeria posing
going for ultra soft light ... key light is feathered and the Hotspot is out of the frame

While a bigger modifier will create softer light, you can make the light even softer by feathering it. The technique is simple, just use the very edge of the modifier to illuminate the model, the edge of the modifier normally has the soft light while the hotspot lies in the centre of modifier. This is a super important technique that when done right will give you instantly that fashion magazine look ( i have been published 8 time so far in fashion magazine using this very technique )

dancer with sensual pose in black and white
the bigger the modifier the softer the light

The placement of your light is also crucial to get the right image ... too close and you will bring the hotspot to reflect on the skin while the invert square low of light will make shadow fall off extremely quick ....really not a flattering image. If the light is too far, your image will turn out flat and boring... you need to find the exact placement where the hotspot stop being reflected on your model skin and create a white halo instead of beautiful soft light.


I also like to raise the iso up to 400 this allows me to drop the power on the flash, remember dark skin is sensitive to highlight, too much flash power will create that dreaded hotspot, same for aperture, f5.6 works best rather than usual f8 or f11 i normally use in the studio.

Nigerian woman in red dress walking across the frame with dreadlock in her head
Nigerian youtuber during her photo session in my studio

When doing close portrait i like to bring in negative fill on the set, this allows to have more control on the highlight and works wonder while photographing dark complexion skin. I simply use the dark side of a round 5 in 1 cheap reflector



dark complexion skin model posing
nigerian woman posing in the studio

In the studio i work with the rotalux 53 ( 135cm ) from elinchrom for my key-light, the specific shape of this modifier allows extreme feathering of the light creating extreme soft light that works amazingly well with dark skin tone ...


One final thing all the images you see here are absolutely not retouched, they are all simple raw conversion to jpeg with nothing edited, they are all from my studio session ( i am in Mauritius island a lot of my clientele comes from the African continent ). the beautiful skin tone, subtle highlight transition, extremely soft shadows are the result of soft controlled lighting nothing more.


young girl posing in yellow dress with head gear and makup in egypt
You can see how easily the jewellery on the head are catching the highlight... here the hotspot is place above the model head illuminating the backdrop behind

if you have any question about how any of these picture were made just ask me also you can visit the link below from my youtube channel if you have any doubt about how these picture are unedited and not retouched at all




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