'Insecure' Cinematographer Shares How To Properly Light Black Skin In Film

For years, Hollywood has struggled with diversity. And not just diversity in the casting of roles for black people and people of colour, but even in the way the few who have been cast are presented in these shows and movies. An important aspect of making any piece of entertainment is lighting.

The lighting will dictate how a character translates to the audience. Ashen. Vibrant. Healthy. Exhausted. Apathetic. Enlightened. And for a long time, we've been treated to oddly-coloured and badly-lit pictures of our favourite black stars. In fact, any black/brown person who’s taken a selfie in the club or a dimly lit place can tell you cameras aren’t made for us. Until now.

(Photo: Jezebel)

HBO and Issa Rae's hit show, Insecure, has an all-black lead cast. Most importantly, Insecure's all-black lead cast always looks amazing. Not that the characters' lives are perfect or anything, actually they're more the opposite, but on this show, the camera is not contributing to their trials. 

Ava Berkofsky, Insecure's director of photography, who was brought on for the show’s second season to give the show a more movie-like look has made an art out of making black faces look striking and amazing!

Ava Berkofsky (Photo: Film Independent)

In a phone interview with Mic, Ava says:


"When I was in film school, no one ever talked about lighting non-white people. There are all these general rules about lighting people of colour, like throw green light or amber light at them. It’s weird. 

The conventional way of doing things was that if you put the skin tones around 70 IRE (a unit used in the measurement of composite video signals, it ranges from 0 to 100), it’s going to look right. 

If you’ve got black skin, [dialling it] up to 50 or 70 is just going to make the rest of the image look weird. The resulting image looks very bright."


When working on Insecure, the cinematographer wants every scene to look like a painting, so she keeps the light off the walls and instead focuses on the characters' faces.

(Photo: HBO/Insecure)

And her secret to doing that and making black skin look its best? A special whiteboard and a light dab of shiny makeup. Rather than putting light directly on the different complexions on the show, she uses reflection instead.


"Rather than pound someone’s face with light, [I] have the light reflect off them. I always use a white or [canvas-like] muslin, so instead of adding more light, the skin can reflect it."


Who knew the answer wasn't that difficult? Black movie producers, that's who. Ava Duvernay, producer of TV show, Queen Sugar, and movie, Selma – in which, all black characters look like royalty - has been very vocal about this topic. Ava's lighting in Selma influenced the lighting in Insecure.

Ava Duvernay's Selma (Photo: Ava Duvernay)

In 2013, she called out Boardwalk Empire on this issue:


"I don't appreciate seeing black folks that are unlit. For example, although I really desperately want to work on Boardwalk Empire, I do not appreciate the way that Chalky White is not lit properly. And that doesn't mean that he has to be over-lit.

It means that's a dark brother, and if he's in a frame with a lighter-skinned person, you have to — you don't automatically light for the lighter-skinned person and leave him in shadow."


Insecure's Ava Berkofsky has a tip dark-skinned folks can use to improve their selfies, when they're in poorly lit places, using just their phones:


"Stand close to a soft light source and turn three quarters to the light, so that it’s not filling in everything the same way. Kind of like a Rembrandt painting."


Well, thanks, Ava!

Read More - > The internet bites back after director attempts to justify whitewashing

By Olanrewaju Eweniyi, publish on 14/09/2017