Having photographed people of many different nationalities during the course of this project one of the challenges has been getting skin tone exposed correctly. I have a good sense of what looks right for Caucasian skin, and for most of the South East Asians that I have encountered, but for those of African origin, or from the Indian sub-continent, there are so many shades that this is more difficult.
In simple terms, a camera that automatically sets an appropriate exposure level does so by measuring the light coming in through the lens and comparing this to some expected average, and adjusting accordingly so that the bright areas and dark areas of your picture considered in total match that average value. This is where some digital correction may be required later, but of course the more extreme that correction the more the quality of your picture suffers.
I encountered this issue at the weekend when I was shooting group photographs that included Edwin, who is of Nigerian descent. Against a white background my camera decides that it has quite enough light thank you, and so under exposes which leaves Edwin as a silhouette and captures little of the detail of his wonderfully expressive face which is why when we had a short break I asked him for a portrait.
The sloping windows in the roof gave the only natural light in the room, but at six foot six I was able to position him under one of them to put him in some good light pretty easily. (He chided me for referring to him as the gentle giant so I was tempted to write about Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, but that might have been too obscure a link even by my standards!). I was happy with the portrait as was one of my colleagues who viewed it on my camera back. This was how Eddie should look.
And that might have been that, had Celia, a pretty Vietnamese student not asked to have her photograph taken too. At approximately 18 inches shorter than Edwin she was never going to reach the same pool of light, so taking the inverse square law into account the picture has much flatter lighting which to my mind doesn’t do her justice so well.