Any photographer who has photographed or recorded multiple skin tones on film will know that lighting suitable for one skin type won't always work for another. Exposing for a dark skin tone may blow out a lighter skinned companion, and lighting for a pale skin tone may leave a darker skinned person in the shadows. So how do you properly light dark skin? Xavier Harding recently interviewed Ava Berkofsky, HBO's director of photography for the show "Insecure," for Mic to find out what her techniques are for lighting the show's black actors.
In the article, Berkofsky mentions several techniques she uses to properly light, but not over-light, dark skin, which was a hallmark of TV sitcoms like "The Cosby Show" where the sets were brightly lit to compensate for the actors darker skin. Employing these techniques could be as invaluable to photographers as cinematographers, since balancing light between subjects of different skin tones is a common stumbling block, and people of color can often be over-lit when photographed next to their lighter counterparts, causing their faces to lose depth. To give "Insecure" a cinematic, rather than a sitcom, look, Berkofsky varies the light, using more subdued light for the interiors and lighting her subjects separately. The result of such careful planning and attention is that the actor's skin tones are beautifully rendered and each scene has a painterly quality.