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More frequently than anything else, I use brown and tan seamless paper with the majority of my portrait work. A challenge I often implement when working in the studio is doing a semi match of the skin tone of my subject with the background color of the Seamless Paper. And more often than anything else, viewers of my work will ask me how I can compliment the colors to match well within the images, so I thought I’d share some of my techniques with you on how to effectively match skin tones with seamless papers.

In the past, I’ve shared some of my paper lighting techniques here on Savage’s resource blog, and many of the same methods are used to match these tones as well. The first practical law you must understand is the Inverse Square Law of Lighting. I’ve gone into it plenty of times before, so all you need to know is that lighting will fall off in a kind of strange and gradual way. In fact, for every time you double the distance of your light to your subject, you lose 3/4th of the power. So when trying to match tones with seamless, you just need to keep this law in your mind.

And this can be done in one of two ways. The first way, and probably the easiest way, is to light your background and your subject independently. This can bring a whole new set of challenges (with the biggest challenge probably being the added cost) but would allow you to change the power output of each light with ease. The other option, and perhaps more practical option, is to extend or shorten the distance your subject is from the background until you get the desired results. Let me explain.

Let’s say you have a light two feet from your subject, and then the subject is four feet from the background. To lighting the background, you just need to shorten the distance from the background (so move the subject and light one foot closer to the background). The opposite is true for darkening the background, bu pushing both the lighting source and subject further away from the background.

When it comes to skin tone matching, my favorite is Pecan Seamless Paper; for its ability to cover a broad range of skin tones. However, it’s also important to understand your subjects base tone to better understand which colors will complement their skin. In general, skin tones have three main base tones – warm, cool, and neutral.

Now I’m not going to pretend I’m a dermatologist, because all of the knowledge I have on this field has come from experience, and listening to the knowledge of makeup artists I’ve worked with. However, you can expect all subjects to have one of three base tones to their skin, and identifying this will make it easier to better match your background with their skin tone.

  1. Warm Skin Tones – peachy, yellow or golden skin tones
  2. Cool Skin Tones – reddish, pink or bluish tones
  3. Neutral Skin Tones – olive or a combination of the tones above

And by understanding these tones, you can easily see which skin tones will work well with which Savage Seamless Paper colors…

Warm Skin Tones – Egg Shell Seamless, Sand Seamless, Ivory Seamless, Pecan Seamless
Cool Skin Tones – Coral Seamless, Pecan Seamless, Beige Seamless, Cocoa Seamless
Neutral Skin Tones – Olive Green Seamless, and any of the above

Understanding Color Theory

By implementing this understanding of base tones, you can also help create images with a better overall aesthetic by making use of color theory. Perhaps the best way to get an understanding of color theory is to spend some time playing with a color wheel. Adobe makes this easy with their Adobe Color tool. You’ll quickly find that for warm skin tones, colors like olive, coral, and other earthy tones will compliment the base skin tone the best. For cool skin tones, dark blue, lavender, rose and emerald will compliment your skin tone best. And finally, blue, red and off-whites usually will look best for neutral skin tones.

These same principles apply to your seamless selection, so be aware of your options to better complete your images using color theory. It’s important to remember that photography is a creative process, but a better understanding of color theory and help take your work to the next level. Have any additional pointers? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Zach Sutton

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. His work and writings have been featured on Fstoppers, SLR Lounge, Profoto Blog, DSLR Photography Magazine, Phototuts+, Photofocus, Resource Magazine, and more. When not shooting, Zach often dedicates his time to help with education in the field of photography and videography. He often teaches workshops and gives lectures all over North America, as well as contributing to various publications in the field of photography when he has time. You can see some of his work on his website.

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