Many filmmakers would agree that one of the most intimidating aspects of color grading would be retaining accurate, beautiful-looking skin tones. As you start adding on various LUTs, curves, and other color grading filters, it’s easy to get distracted, causing you to lose the natural appearance of your talent’s skin.
As a rule, to attain professional looking skin tones in your footage, you need to spend an extra amount of time and effort while going through your shots to clean up any color imperfections. In the video below, Cody Blue shows how to achieve pleasing skin tones, all while using only the available tools included with Adobe Premiere Pro CC.
Before trying to correct your skin tones in post, it’s paramount to try and shoot your footage with the proper settings. Ideally, you’ll want to expose for your actor’s skin as best as you can. One tool you can use to ensure optimal exposure is Zebra. Set the setting to 70% and expose your scene just as shown in the video above.
It’s important to note, however, that the 70% Zebra value should be used only as a reference, rather than a strict limit. Use your skills in determining proper exposure depending on the situation, rather than relying solely on this particular tool. For example, if the Zebra stripes appear on your camera for talents with darker-colored skin, you’ll know that your shot is overexposed.
You can also check your exposure through the use of False Color. If your camera doesn’t have the latter built in, try investing in a monitor that includes the feature. Whichever asset you use, it’s crucial that you take the proper time to nail your exposure when filming, rather than relying on any color-correction methods in post.
Once you have shot your footage, and after you’ve performed your primary color grade, you’re ready to refine your skin tones. To start off, create a mask in your image that covers just your actor’s skin (i.e., their face, arms, legs). This mask is only temporary and can be removed after you make your color corrections.
In general, there are two scopes you want to pay close attention to. The Vectorscope (YUV) is typically used to gauge the color accuracy of your skin, in addition to its saturation. On the other hand, the Waveform (Luma) can assist you in monitoring your skin’s exposure.
When trying to correct your skin’s color, the vectorscope contains a handy skin tone line that indicates the neutral color of human’s skin. With this guide, your goal is to now use your color tools, making any necessary adjustments to shift your skin tones close to the aforementioned line on your scope.
The first aspect of the workflow you want to consider is whether or not your skin is exposed correctly. Using the Waveform as a guide, you’ll typically want to keep your skin tones between the 50 to 70 range. If ever you feel the need to adjust the exposure further, take advantage of the Basic Correction or Curves tool in the Lumetri Color panel.
To make any corrections referring to skin colors, use the Tint slider found under the Basic Corrections tab of the Lumetri panel. If your shot is too warm, for instance, move the tint slider towards the green side. Conversely, if the image is too green/cool looking, push the tint slider towards the magenta.
Keep in mind that when adjusting the Tint of your image, even subtle tweaks does go a long way. Don’t be surprised if even a value of -1.2 would be enough to balance your skin tone colors. If using the Tint settings doesn’t do much to correct your skin tones, you can also try adjusting the Temperature slider. Similarly, if your shot seems too warm, move the Temperature slider to the blue side, and vice-versa.
Overall, color correcting skin tones could be an extremely tedious process. However, by putting in a little extra effort into the coloring process, you will end up with professional-looking images that can easily add more production value to your project. Keep in mind, however, that the tweaks you make for adjusting skin tones will vary greatly depending on the skin of your actor. That being said, be sure to do your best when determining the necessary color and exposure adjustments for your shots.