Photographing my Black baby
February 5, 2009 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Help me photograph my African-American daughter so that her skin and hair are correct.

I have an 18-month-old daughter who is Black; I'm white. She is very lovely and I like to take pictures of her, but it's tricky in artificial light. With flash, two unfortunate things happen: Her skin looks yellowish, and the flash shines off the parts of her hair in a way that makes her hair look a lot thinner than it is.

When there's decent natural light coming through the windows, I just don't use the flash, and then she looks fine. But when I want to take a flash picture, they never come out as well as I'd like.

I'm a snapshot photographer who uses a Canon PowerShot. Any tips for me, other than avoiding flash photography?
posted by not that girl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Either buy a flash diffuser, or for a simple easy free fix, put a piece of paper in front of the flash when you take a picture.
posted by Grither at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: This is probably more info than you want, but here is an article on how a pro approaches this problem. Even though he is using professional equipment, you will see that you are using his advice when you use natural light from a window. This is a common issue for portrait photographers and a little searching around various photography sites might get you some additional advice.
posted by TedW at 9:26 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've taped a thin piece of tissue over my flash. Works like a charm for much better lighting. I do have to fidget with the exposure a bit though, as it will turn out dark otherwise. Try the tissue along with exposure bracketing for the best chance of getting it right.
posted by InfinateJane at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: Seconding natural light, and a diffuse flash (piece of tissue or wax paper over the flash). The natural light can be from behind (which will highlight her hair), or the side (brightening one side of her face. The flash (obviously dead-on front, for this camera) will be used as a "fill flash" - that is, it will minimized shadows.

If the natural lighting is from a broad source (nearby big window), you may not find the diffuser is even necessary.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:20 AM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: The tissue over the flash thing works in a pinch, but you are correct in that you want to avoid using the flash. Instead, if you're taking photos when daylight is simply unavailable, you want to bounce as much light as possible off of something large and white and onto your subject. IE: shine lamps and such onto the ceiling. Try to avoid shining light directly onto her. If you practice, you can get pretty good at angling a piece of glossy white card in front of the flash so that it reflects onto the ceiling when you take a shot. There are various photo tools you can buy for this, of course, but I've never bothered with them.

Also, I believe that the Canon PowerShot lets you set the white balance? If you go into manual settings you should be able to find a way to set your white balance, which you will want to set by focusing on the aforementioned piece of white card in the artificial lighting of the moment. That should help with the yellow tinge. The softer, bounced lighting is what helps with the shine on the hair and the flattened depth of the photo.

Where do you find some glossy white card, you ask? Try looking on the inside of a screw-top jar of something. Sometimes they are gray. Sometimes you hit paydirt. I still use one I found on the inside of a jar of peanuts.
posted by Mizu at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2009

Black skin photographs particularly beautiful against turquoisey-blue or otherwise vibrant backgrounds and outfits. Fluffy hair takes sidelight and backlight nicely- it turns into a sort of halo, which can be really cute on a kid.
No flash is better for sure; indirect daylight (indoors, or slightly shaded outdoors) is good and magic hour (just as the sun starts to set or halfway through its rise, when the light is golden) is best. Outdoor grey overcast light is not as good.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:02 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's amazing how much can be learned by the ignorant--these answers are great, and have expanded my knowledge of lighting in photography about 900%. Thanks.
posted by not that girl at 2:36 PM on February 5, 2009

Be careful; lighting is a slippery slope and before you know it you're neck deep in awesomeness like this site.
posted by ZakDaddy at 5:02 PM on February 5, 2009

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