Black Is the New Black

posted on 6th of january, 2009

The July 08 issue of Italian Vogue featured only black models and became one of the best selling foreign magazine issues ever in the U.S. Photographer Steven Meisel shot the issue and was quoted as saying that he hoped that the success of the layouts would show the world of advertisers and modeling agencies that the use of racially diverse models was a wise choice.

Not withstanding the success of the issues in newsstand sales, some complained that the effort was racist in itself as all the models conformed to the Euro/American ideas of beauty and actually represented ‘white looking models with darker skin”. But then fashion models rarely look like typical women of any race.

Often models outside of the unrealistic world of fashion tend to resemble well-known actors or, even, politicians as people relate to people that they admire. This admiration is used to trigger positive feelings about a product or service in ads and promo websites. I recall several times doing a double take to check if this or that famous person was really acting as a spokesperson for a particular product. Closer inspection showed that a strong resemblance was present but the spokesperson wasn’t the famous person at all. The casting had been done to play on the resemblances as both an eye-catching strategy as well as to create confidence by association…even if the association was subliminal

The U.S. is about to inaugurate a man of African American descent who is bringing a wonderfully photogenic family with him to the White House. The past decade has seen an increasing demand for ethnic diversity in stock images of business and school groups…but now I predict that the First Family of the U.S. will cause a bump in the need for stock photos of African American families, business leaders and spokespeople (especially if they resemble Barack or Michelle) and of all-black business groups not just images with a token ethnic face.

The main challenge in photographing darker skin is lighting so that the highlights define the face/body rather than the shadows as in light skin so I’ve read. Very dark faces will lose definition without careful attention to lighting and backgrounds. Avoid stark white backgrounds as the contrast can cause you to lose the beauty of darker skin. Getting the skin tones correct can be extra challenging when a very light skinned model is paired with a model with very dark skin.

Those with experience lighting dark skin models should share them with fellow shooters in the comments below.

Shot list
Blended families-parents of two different races
Extended families-groups of three or more generations
Older and elderly African American adults
Groups of black children playing at home or school
Black career men and women
Family meals
All black business groups.

Related websites

Articles about the Vogue issue here and here
Tips on shooting this subject: here and here

Comments (13)

Posted by Demonike on January 16, 2009
Other than "portrait", "children", "expressions", I didn't see anything else that would fit. Are there any categories that I am missing that suit this topic better?

Don't forget People > Diversity. It is even more important than the overcrowded and anonymous "Portraits". Expressions should be used only in case of clearly distinguishable mood in the face. Modest smile is not a candidate for the Expressions category.

BTW, slightly off topic, if you upload a series and you get the first one refused for misspellings or wrong keywords/categories, AND the images are not reviewed all in one go, then you have the possibility to improve the info in your upcoming images already in the queue (Management Area > Pending images). In this way, you'll avoid partly unnecessary refusals and save time for the both of us. Please take note of your refusal notifications closely...
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 15, 2009
window light using a long lens to drop out the background often works great for skin (portraits) of all races.
Posted by Marcopolo on January 14, 2009
I am just now starting to shoot models for stock. One of the first models I worked with happens to be African American. I shot her on both a white and black background, I think exposing on a black background is especially tough since the very brunette hair just fades into the background. I am going to try to light from behind the hair as well next time and see how that works. The ones shot on a white background(I think) turned out relatively okay, I guess I will find out when I upload them.
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 12, 2009
If you use 'African' in the keywords you should be ok.
Posted by Djk on January 11, 2009
   Beautiful black island girl   

I have submitted some of young women of the Caribbean. They are not Afro-American but are of African heritage, along with other races. The MR library has afro-american, so I just put "other". Also, the skin color is not black, rarely it is, but a warm brown. Just wondering if people will search for afro-american images only and what key words to use?
Posted by Vrjoyner on January 09, 2009
Topics dealing with "race" always has a tendency to get a little heated, from the truth being told and from the innocent denial of blatant separatism in the degrees of the human race. This is in reference to the articles linked here.

Money is the root of all marketing and advertising where profit is concerned. The face and body that brings in the money for the advertisers, will be the face/body that will get used. Nick Knight tells the truth about discrimination, but it will change nothing.

The styles, fashion and music that Afro-Americans have created throughout history have always been desired by mainstream America. Artificially blown up lips, and luscious big butts, now where do you think those styles originate. And, Afro-American woman have always been very much desired, but usually covertly. After all, how do you think Afro-Americans get all these different shades of brown? But, alas, it's all about the money!

Oh, another thought. I wonder, do photojournalist who photograph...(More)
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 09, 2009
For further discussion: go here Thanks to a tip via PDN
Posted by Cmarshall717 on January 08, 2009
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 08, 2009
Cmarshall. Sounds like you have the categories correct without knowing more about the images.
Posted by Cmarshall717 on January 08, 2009
I just sent my first African American little girl portraits up for approval. The question I had was which categories were best to place them. Other than "portrait", "children", "expressions", I didn't see anything else that would fit. Are there any categories that I am missing that suit this topic better?
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 08, 2009
Yes, Lightart, you are correct in your understanding of the post.
Posted by Ellenboughn on January 07, 2009
Lighting skin tones of any color can be problematic to get great skin color and avoid hot spots and underexposed details. I can tell from your portfolio that it wouldn't be a challenge for you...but I see images in the collection where a very dark face has lost all detail while the lighter person next to is just slightly underexposed.
Posted by Vrjoyner on January 07, 2009
I am curious . . . I am planning on including people photographs in my portfolio soon and I am always confused as to why people think that photographing Afro-Americans requires "special techniques" to get the color correct.

I have seen plenty of images of products (shoes, suits, clothes, etc.) that are really the true color of black. The perfect photograph will capture the details in the black so it is not just a big blotch of black color and the viewer can see clearly the lines and shapes of the black object. Also, isn't it a test of skill to meter correctly and photograph a white blouse and a black purse together?

Afro-Americans on the other hand are not true black in tone, but many shades of browns. So lighting people of color should not be any different than photographing anything else where you need to meter different tones to get the correct exposure.

Free your mind and the rest will follow . . .

Comments (13)

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Photo credits: Heidi Tuller, Iofoto, Kelpfish, Monkey Business Images, Mwproductions, Photoeuphoria.

About me

I have written a about microstock photography released in 2010. I was the Director of Content at Dreamstime for two years ending in Feb, 2009. You can order my book from amazon via my website at www.ellenboughn.com/blog.

Bainbridge Island, US

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