At Tribe, one of our most commonly asked questions is, HOW DO I ACHIEVE GREAT SKIN TONES?

While presets are designed to add to an image by giving it unique tone & character, they are not intended to correct poor skin tones & white balance. This is a popular misconception, and it’s important to understand that a preset can ADD to an image, but it needs to start with a properly exposed image with correct white balance.

Let’s explore how to achieve this!

(Image by Jon Cruz)

(Image by Jon Cruz)


White balance is essentially how warm or cool your image is.

Color temperature is measured in Kelvin. Examples of warmer light are sunset, candle light, & incandescent bulbs. Examples of cooler light are overcast skies, shade, and blue sky.
 White balance can cause images to range from warm red, to green, to cool blue tones.

(image by Skillie Jacques Botha)

(image by Skillie Jacques Botha)


Let’s begin with understanding light. This is key not only in achieving great skin tones, but for decent photography in general.

The time of day, location, and lighting conditions will all affect skin tones.

For example, the same location at midday vs golden hour will create a very different result.

Obviously the same thing applies to a location on a sunny vs cloudy day.

What sometimes gets overlooked is the effect of reflected light. Often shooting outdoors in natural environments can create a ‘green’ reflected light onto skin (often called ‘color cast’).

Equally, working indoors with fluorescent or incandescent lights will create different color casts, and indoor surfaces can reflect light onto your subject’s skin.

Having a good understanding of light will, in time, allow you to make important decisions on when and where to place your subject to create portraits.

(Image by Romulo Ozolio)

(Image by Romulo Ozolio)


Auto vs manual WB (white balance).

There is a never-ending debate about whether you should use AUTO white balance, or manually set it. Almost every digital camera will give you several WB options. Often these are: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Incandescent, Custom, or Kelvin (manual).

There is no ‘right’ way to do it, and most cameras are so smart that ‘auto’ will generally produce accurate results. However, in mixed lighting, sometimes the camera can have trouble figuring it out, and produce strange results. Even in consistent light though, your camera might change the WB from shot to shot very slightly, which means varied results, and less consistent images to work with.

This is when setting your WB to something other than auto can be an advantage.

Manually setting your WB mean you will have consistent results from one shot to the next, which can really simplify your editing process. This is achieved by manually selecting a Kelvin temperature that matches the lighting situation. For example, incandescent light is around 2700 Kelvin, whereas shade can be around 8000 Kelvin.

Using the various WB presets (like shade, sunlight, fluorescent, etc) can work too, as long as the light is consistent, and from a single source.

Many cameras will give you the option of setting a ‘custom’ WB. This is achieved by photographing something white or mid-grey (often a grey card) in the light environment you’ll be shooting in, and using that image as a ‘reference’ photo for your camera to determine how to set WB.

Of course, if you are shooting in RAW (which most professionals do) you can easily correct the white balance in post-processing. We’ll get into that shortly.

(Image by Ian J Bell)

(Image by Ian J Bell)


Color science & sensors are different from camera to camera, so using mixed cameras will produce different results.

Nikon colors are different from Canon colors. Even within cameras of the same brand, you will see different colors (for example Canon Mark III vs Mark IV).

If you are using different cameras on the same shoot (wedding photographers often do this) it will take a bit of work to get them all to line up.

(Image by Jon Cruz)

(Image by Jon Cruz)


Getting the exposure right in camera will go a long way to ensuring your skin tones look good in the final image.

We often place subjects so that their back’s are to the sun, but this can end up causing their faces to get ‘muddy’, especially when the sun is low in the sky.

As well, if you are shooting into the sun, it can be tempting to use the sun to create an artistic flare, but this can really cause problems with skin tones.

As well, a very under-exposed face will be harder to work with, so be sure to get your exposure correct in camera!



The good news is, even if you don’t get your WB & exposure quite right in-camera, you can usually fix it in post processing.

The first step in correcting your image is to adjust the exposure, temperature & tint BEFORE applying any presets or profiles. This one simple step will go a long way to helping you achieve good skin tones in your images.

Once you have done this, you can then apply a preset or profile, and then fine tune the settings.

Other adjustments that are commonly used are the hue, saturation, & luminance sliders. Particularly, the red & orange sliders, if you are working on skin tones. Looking a little too red? Push the red hue towards orange, or bump up the red luminance slider.

Beyond these basic tools, you can make changes to the split toning, calibration sliders, and even use the brush tool to make spot adjustments when working on your images.

(Image by Neville Park Photography)

(Image by Neville Park Photography)


Optimally, we would like to get images right IN CAMERA. This guarantees the best images and experience for both photographer and client. Work on paying close attention to your shooting environment and camera settings to create a strong image with proper lighting and white balance. This will speed up your post-processing workflow and lead to far better skin tones!