Lighting Skin Tones

Lighting Skin Tones


As lighting designers, we spend the vast majority of our time lighting performers. Whether they are actors, singers or dancers our job is to make them look good on stage. Colour plays a huge role in how we see things on stage, and particularly how we see people. The wrong colour choice can result in our performers all looking seasick and unnatural. Like any other object, skin tones respond to colour in the same way – they will absorb some portions of the spectrum and reflect the parts of the spectrum that make up that particular skin tone. We are used to seeing each other in white light – whether we are indoors or outdoors, for the most part, the light that we are experiencing is white, so when we are recreating this environment on stage, we should be looking at colours that are not overly saturated, and in fact it is sometimes quite good to not use any colour at all. Of course, the joy of being a lighting designer is that you get to manipulate the light, and as a result your audience, so instead of just creating a white light on stage to represent sunlight, you can add subtle colour tones that will not only help to tell the story, but also make the performers look fantastic. Just remember that whatever colours you choose, your primary role is to light the actors, so let’s take a look and see what happens to skin tones when you add colour to your light. Let’s start by lighting our performers from two sides, with both lights in open white. Tungsten light is a good full spectrum light source, but tends to the warmer side of the spectrum, so its works particularly well on all skin tones. As we start to add colour notice how the different skin tones react. Let’s start with a pale rose on one side, now we add in a pale blue tint from the other side, you will notice the difference in the way the skin responds to this subtle changes in colour. It is a common practice to use both a warm and a cool tint to light performers – again, this comes from a response to our natural environment. I find that a pale lavender is a great colour to use on performers – because it can double up as both the warm tint and the cool. To achieve the same visual effect in this example I used two different shades of lavender. For the lighter skin tone I used LEE 702 and for the darker skin tone LEE 708. Now if we add a warm tint it appears to be a cooler colour, and if we now add a cooler tint, it appears warmer. Try to remember that the best lighting often goes unnoticed, lighting should help to support the performers and make them look as natural as possible.

1 Comment

  • Artsy Thug says:

    Thanks for touching on different skin tones. You never see tutorials that target/mention any skin tone other than pale.

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