Finding the right preset for your brand, your family, or your client can sometimes be more difficult than simply pinning down preferred style and tone. For starters, skin tones come in a wide variety of shades and undertones. This makes a one-size-fits-all editing solution near impossible. Finding presets that honor dark or tan skin can be especially difficult, as rich undertones respond to presets differently than bland or pale undertones.
Despite extensive beta-testing across various skin tones and conditions prior to the release of each and every collection at Luxe, we know it’s not a one-size fits all world. Some vibrant edits may result in red or orange tints to skin or subtle edits may leave skin washed out. These editing issues most often occur within photos shot by smartphones because smartphones (versus a digital camera) capture less light data within an image. They're also more likely to occur when photographers shoot in JPEG vs RAW.
But fear not. There's a perfect preset for all tones of skin! This article was created to help you find your perfect fit when editing dark skin tones with presets.
Our Preset Recommendations for Dark Skin Tones
To begin we will recommend our favorite preset collections for darker skin tones, followed by our recommendations for ensuring the perfect edit every time, no matter the collection you choose.
Our preset recommendations will focus on:
- Less vibrant warm tones
- Common shooting conditions
- Higher contrast options
- Increased luminance
- Flattering tonal enhancements
Best All-Around Collection: Luxe Portraits
The Luxe Portraits collection is one of our largest collections. It's packed with a versatile array of presets and tools tailored to indoor, outdoor, and studio conditions. We typically recommend this collection as a great starting place for photographers who wish to have the widest range of options for portraiture, along with a handy toolkit for protecting and enhancing skin tones. This collection has flattering options and corrective tools for getting the most out of a variety shooting situations.
Best Weddings Collection: Luxe Weddings
Another versatile (and popular!) collection that enhances natural tones is the Luxe Weddings preset collection. Weddings are often made up of a world of contrasts, and our Luxe Weddings collection meets these contrasts head on for amazing results. This collection boasts fantastic contrast and dynamic range, gentle and thoughtful toning, and skin-preserving stylistic presets.
Best Moody Collection: Brixton Film Earthy Moods
It is so easy for a moody edit to veer into too-warm territory, washing your subjects in orange or reddish earthy hues. Sometimes this works and fits your stylistic goal. Other times you might wish you had something more balanced - particularly when working with darker skin tones. What's great about Brixton Film's Earthy Moods collection is that it warms without overwhelming. It adds contrast with a smart and subtle touch while exuding a moody and modern edge. Brixton Film Earthy Moods is a top-selling collection that stylistically tones, without overdoing it.
Best Light & Airy Collection: Light & Airy Portraits
Balance is key with light and airy edits. Generally speaking, light and airy presets can over-brighten, wash-out features and underwhelm contrast. Even worse, we've seen numerous edits where an entire image is inappropriately cast with unflattering peachy hues. The Luxe Light & Airy's Portraits collection addresses each of these traditional fails and stands out as a great choice for darker skin tones. The collection largely boosts true whites, increases color luminance, and softly emphasizes natural toning without over-brightening, destroying undertones, or totally washing out darker skin.
Fail-Proof Editing For Dark Skin Tones
The collections that we've recommended above are all outstanding choices when working with darker skin tones. Unfortunately, mobile photographers, those shooting in JPEG format, and those working in unfavorable lighting conditions may still experience some special challenges in achieving perfectly-balanced results, especially when it comes to more a stylistic edit (like Earthy Moods or Light & Airy). This is because images shot in these conditions contain less data and thus may take on even the most subtle toning in unpredictable ways. Thankfully, we're here to present some easy fixes!
If you find yourself with an almost-perfect editing solution, but still struggle with some unpleasant skin toning in your images, we have some quick end-to-end solutions. These tips will help you to properly expose your images and tone-balance dark skin for a perfect edit every time.
Step 1: Address your Shooting Conditions
In the same way that all skin and undertones are unique, so is each individual shoot. So it's important to make sure that your images are both well-balanced and well-exposed no matter the shooting conditions. Essentially, each image is made up of different attributes and depending on internal camera settings and your shooting environment, some very different color data. Whether shooting digital or mobile, if you cannot control your lighting environment, or adjust your in-camera settings to properly adjust to that environment (in terms of exposure), then you'll want to adjust your exposure and white balance in Lightroom to ensure that skin tones are properly exposed. If you're concerned about how presets impact skin tones, we recommend making these corrective adjustments AFTER applying your desired preset.
Step 2: Apply Preset
Typically, we recommend correcting exposure and white balance BEFORE adding your desired preset. This has the effect of properly balancing your image before application of tonal change. In this case, we're switching things around for one important reason: to get a real feel for how the preset's setting changes affect what information is available in your image. How is it affecting light? Luminance? Contrast? Undertones? When wanting to honor skin tones, these factors are super important, and you'll want to make sure that you understand what your presets are doing before applying any of your own corrections.
When you first use a new preset collection, it's always wise to check what is actually being changed in your settings for each preset. While time consuming, this can really save time in the long run by allowing you to better understand what is happening to your images so that you can apply a faster fix.
Step 3: Exposure & White Balance Correction
As mentioned, it is so important to make sure that your images are as balanced as possible in terms of lighting, as this can really make or break your final edit.
Exposure is important because over-exposed images (generally speaking) will appear blown-out or excessively bright. Under-exposed images will appear dark and heavily shadowed. Both over- and under-exposed images are ultimately missing key light and/or color data that may later impact how your image responds to changes in toning. If you're unfamiliar with exposure and want to learn the how and why behind exposure adjustment, check out our quick and helpful guide on how to adjust exposure in Lightroom for desktop or mobile editing.
White balance refers more to temperature (in a nutshell). Images appearing too cool or too warm due to lighting conditions? White colors tinted with an orange or blue color cast? A quick auto-correction to white balance can typically right this with one-touch. New to white balance? Check out this handy quick-start guide on how to adjust white balance in Lightroom for desktop or mobile.
Step 4: Fix Saturation or Luminance
Adjustment of exposure and white balance correction are typically enough to achieve an ideal edit. If this is the case, congrats on picking up this tool of the trade! If not, it's likely you may be working with a skewed skin understone. You'll find a quick fix for this in your HSL panel. This section breaks down what's happening across H- Hue, S- Saturation, and L- Luxuriance, so that you can quickly remedy any remaining flaws within your edit. These settings are available in every version of Lightroom (desktop and mobile) and ACR.
Hue refers to the actual color tones in the image. We don’t recommend adjusting hue when editing darker skin tones because ultimately it is not the color of the skin itself that's causing editing issues. The difficulties are most likely the result of saturation (the undertones have been pulled too vibrant/not vibrant enough) or luminance (the undertones have been pulled too light/too dark).
Saturation deals with the strength or power of a specific color. This setting is a best bet when making individualized corrections for darker skin tones. If you're seeing washed out skin, or skin appearing dull and grey, this is likely a color saturation issue in which these colors are under-saturated. If you're seeing unnaturally orange, red, pink, blue or purplish skin toning, then you may be dealing with over-saturated tones.
Luminance describes the brightness of a specific color. If undertones are appearing too dark/deep, often a soft touch to the right will lighten these tones in your image. Likewise, if undertones appear too light or lacking richness, a slight bump to the left will deepen these tones.
HSL Targeted Tool
Does working with HSL sliders feel tedious or overwhelming? If so, you may prefer the HSL targeted tool. The targeted tool is that little target icon visible near the top of your HSL panel. Once you've determined whether your issue is with Saturation or Luminance, you can apply the targeted tool by selecting the target icon and then selecting Lumiance or Saturation. Then, click and drag the part your image that requires color correction. Note, if you selected Hue or All (instead of Luminance or Saturation), you'll see drastic adjustments to overall color instead of your desired outcome.
Targeted tool in Lightroom Classic:
Targeted tool in Lightroom (CC; Cloud-based):
Targeted tool in Lightroom Mobile (Found under Color > Mix):
Step 5: Get Back to Basics and Check the Histogram
Editing RAW in Lightroom Classic and want to better evaluate where things are getting unbalanced? Check out that histogram!
The histogram is a great way to peek at the overall tonal balance of your image.
You can quick-check this balance by hovering your mouse over your subject’s skin and noting the number values directly beneath your Histogram. You want to aim for a balance in which blue is the lowest value, red the highest, and green somewhere in the middle. If blue is too high, you are getting too cold, if red, too warm.
Achieve Stunning Edits of Dark Skin
Finding that perfect edit that honors, preserves, and enhances dark and tan skin tones can present certain challenges. Experiencing those challenges are likely what led you to this article in the first place. Our goal and hope is that we were able to provide you with the recommendations and tools to get fantastic results that make photos of yourself, your family, or your clients shine every single time. And when things don't shine right off the bat, we hope that we were able to better help you to understand what's happening in your images when things go wrong and how to fix these things quickly and effectively. Cheers to stunning, thoughtful, and well-balanced results.
Photo Attribution: Aaron Baxter, Kati Xilo, Ahmad Sweeney