History Of How Film & Camera Tech Evolved To Expose Different Skin Tones More Accurately

Sep 18, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

History Of How Film & Camera Tech Evolved To Expose Different Skin Tones More Accurately

Sep 18, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

color-filmIn the quick video clip below, professor Lorna Roth (of Concordia University in Montreal), covers the who, what, why, where, and when film and camera technology began making strides in an effort to more accurately capture and portray the wide variety of skin tones that make up the human race.

In the early days of color film, the color balance of the film’s processing chemicals were made with the primary consumer market in mind–which, at the time, was predominately light skinned individuals. “For many decades, chemicals that would bring out various reddish, yellow, and brown tones were largely left out,” explains the video’s narrator.

Interestingly, what spurred a change in the industry was not a skin tone bias, but the fact the film would also inaccurately portray different types of wood grain. That’s right, wood grain–as in the grain of wooden furniture. In the 1970’s, “…companies that were marketing different kinds of wood furniture were complaining that Kodak film did not render the difference between dark grained wood and light grained wood.”

YouTube video

Roth has studied the topic in depth, even writing a 26-page research paper in the Canadian Journal of Communication back in 2009. In the paper, Roth shares a plethora of her findings along with some rather interesting statements she collected from the various people she interviewed during her study, including this one from Earl Kage, a former manager for Kodak Research Studios, who says it wasn’t just wood grain that people were complaining about.

“This was also about the same time that we got some interesting observations from chocolate manufacturers who, in displaying Whitman’s chocolate or whatever the names were in any case, the subtle variations between the dark and bittersweet and milk chocolates weren’t as discernible and so some modifications were tried and consequently my little department became quite fat with chocolate, because what was in the front of the camera was consumed at the end of the shoot.”

If you have some free time, you can read her research in it’s entirety, here.

[ via Vox | Canadian Journal of Communication ]

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 responses to “History Of How Film & Camera Tech Evolved To Expose Different Skin Tones More Accurately”

  1. trom Avatar
    trom

    This is really interesting because an old photographer who’s also a friend of mine told me a similar story about Kodak film not exposing darker skin tones well. Except it wasn’t about the consumers but that they only intended for certain people to be photographed. He then said that’s why many people of darker skin tones patroned Fuji instead.

    But I didn’t know that they sought to correct the film because of wood grain, that is a very interesting detail.

    1. trom Avatar
      trom

      Sorry I messed up a detail it wasn’t Fuji it was Nikon that they preferred to use.

    2. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      Yeah, I thought that part was an interesting twist as well. :)

  2. Jim Avatar
    Jim

    I am not sure if her research is correct. I mean it isn’t that long ago that color film was invented so surely if you were to look at all this you could investigate from the start of color film and trace its development. You would find out that the dynamic range of color negative film was really low befor sometime in the 1990’s. And it just happens to be a ‘white’ skintone that sits a bit above 18% grey and looks ‘right’. darker skintones sit below that metering reference point and turn pretty dark, pretty fast. If you understand how colour negative film works you know that it can handle overexposure well, but underexposure not even not well, but pretty bad. (you can read about it here: http://retrocamerareview.tumblr.com/post/126349855205/how-much-can-you-overexpose-film)
    With positive film we face a much much harder gradation than negative film. Everything over or under a certain threshhold will render in wrong brightness.
    I really doubt that there is intentional racism in color film, or digital camera sensors for that matter. I think it isn’t racist technology or something weird like that. I believe it is just inadequate technology. It just can’t reproduce what the human eye sees. It is a crutch, which has been in development for just a couple of decades and is simply not as sophisticated as those visionary instruments in our heads that have been through aeons of evolution. If you’re not into evolution than maybe gods creation could be seen as way better than a human creation…

    A whole other point is the racial bias that there is only one white skin colour which itself somehow is not a shade of red, yellow and brown. I guess there is no way to falsely reproduce a pale person on a sunny summer day at the beach.

  3. ChicagoJohn Avatar
    ChicagoJohn

    This is genuinely stupid.
    As someone who has shot for 30 years, I know that dynamic range was something that Kodak wanted to expand from the beginning.
    The idea that Kodak held back their ability to render shadow detail until furniture manufacturers demanded it? Its beyond idiotic.

    1. dj Avatar
      dj

      No racist action has ever been accused of being logical, but I highly doubt they would lose much financially for such a decision. As far as non commercial use.

    2. dj Avatar
      dj

      No racist action has ever been accused of being logical, but I highly doubt they would lose much financially for such a decision. As far as non commercial use.