Sony colors for portraits

Hi everyone. I’ve been using the Sony a9 with PhotoLab Elite for the last couple of years or so (or OpticsPro back then) and Nikon before that. I know mentioning camera brands can create friction, that’s not what I’m doing here. I love all the camera companies.

I seem to struggle a bit with skin tones with my Sony a9, version 6.x firmware, (at least sometimes I struggle). I do photograph in both natural light and mixed light, always RAW (arw) format. At the university where I work, I do mostly events and portraits and some product photography. I do everything I know to do to get pleasing skin tones, including manual white balance, xrite color checker dcp files, DXO portrait and neutral settings, and I even try using PhotoLab’s profiles from other camera bodies plus the HSL tool. I find that PhotoLab’s Panasonic S1 profile to be a pretty good choice for skin tone for my Sony a9, some of the time. All of the options are very helpful. Thank you DXO team! And, my “clients” give me positive feedback. But why do I have to work so hard just to get something that to my eye looks acceptable?

My Sony a9 seems to produce a skin tone that can be excessively pink and maybe a little contrasty in that part of the tone curve. So, by the time I’m finished processing in PhotoLab, I find that I have usually desaturated the skin tone and cooled it off quite a bit. To my eye, the portraits I produce seem modest and subdued, and not robust and proud. In short, I don’t feel good about my own portrait work.

On the Internet, it seems that photographers get fantastic skin color from all the brands of cameras. Canon is an example that seems to retain saturation and also look great. (I have never personally owned a Canon camera.)

I want to be more proud of my portraits, but I just don’t know what I’m missing from a digital flow POV. Can anyone identify with what I’m saying here? Can someone offer me suggestions, especially if my portrait descriptions sounds like, “ah, I know what you’re doing wrong!”?

Thank you for your consideration - Dan

That’s a really well written/explained query, Dan - so, I’m sure you’ll get a helpful response from this forum.

I’m not a “serious” portrait photographer, so I’m not best qualified to provide authoritative advice - but it does look to me (from the approach you’ve listed above) that you’re using all features available to you.

Regards, John M

Ok, i am not a portretshooter so about specific technique how to finish the image i can’t help you.
One thing which can be very helpfull is the fine contrast in filmpack elite.
To soften the details in the skin.
I made a partial preset out the dxo portret preset. Unchecked everything except the contrast and color settings they made as porttret mode. This partial preset can be used over every other editmoment and only effecs the skintone settings.

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Hi OXiDant,

I really like your idea about reducing the fine contrast for smoother skin texture. And I think it’s about time I start to make specialized presets. Your suggestions help a lot. Thank you!

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If you want i can post my partialpreset later this day.
Edit: (note you need to have Filmpack elite for this presets)
ok i made two type’s (three but one is a DCP G80 camera depending)
The one created out dxo portret preset:
Partial portret skin preset generic v3.preset (1,1 KB)
low on contrast in a global manner, useful for full face image’s.

A more Skin color targetted one:
Portret skin HSL correctie.preset (1,8 KB)
useful for people’s faces in a wider view. (the surrounding area doesn’t be effected as much in satuation and vibrance the HSL color is desaturated the skin more. (Note: after placing preset use the saturation slider to 0%-100% to show selection of the skin:

So you don’t effect too much not skin like hair color and don’t have “colored stains” due nonselection.

Three generations of skin:

granddad/my dad:

my son:

And a nice extra : creative vignetting by local adjustment:
partial gradient vignetting.preset (1,9 KB)

These partial presets are made on my personal workflow:
i try to create a image as nice as i could and when i am done, then i use this “partial presets” to quickly flip back and forward wile zooming in and out on the face and surrounding to see if it is instant improving. If so then i fine tune the settings to my liking.

you said you are using the HSL tool.
do you use both the “Color Changer” (marked as 1), and the Uniformity Slider (Marked as 2)
I am not an expert at all, but I think that they are both can help you a lot with skin tones.

Yes! That would be great!

Thank you!

Hi - I do use the uniformity slider of the HSL, but stop around 50%. Perhaps going to a higher percentage would be helpful. The Color Changer I have not explored as much, but it does make sense. If I see too much pink I could change it into a slightly yellower range. Thank you for that!

Hello @DanC,

We will look at our color profile for the Sony A9, if possible can you provide me one or two image for test in addition of our own images ?

Please, upload them to with your forum name instead of ‘support ticket number’ and let me know when ready.


Hi Marie,

Thank you for your excellent suggestion to send you some original photos. I may do so, sending to the link you provided. I’ve been feeling uncertain and that maybe ‘I just don’t really know what I’m talking about’. I think my Sony A9, with DXO corrections, produce very accurate color. The faces show all the different shades of color, capillaries, etc. The HSL tool is invented to correct that, and I use HSL to the best of my abilities. I guess I’m just struggling with the question of: am I getting the most “professional look”, out of my process? Pleasant versus accurate skin representation, especially in uncontrolled lighting.

Of course, unless I post actual photos you couldn’t have any reasonable comments. I will post some files to link you provided. Thank you.

Hi gregor,

Great comments. MacBook PRO 13", early 2015, screen not calibrated. Some of my photos are printed on post card sized mailers, a very occasional poster now an again, and 99% web use. The Sony a9 doesn’t seem to have problems with vignetting or lens compensation issues with DXO-PL. It seems pretty well behaved in that respect. (Perhaps the pro lenses help in that regard?). I have been thinking about getting a screen calibration device. I think I’ll upgrade my computer first though. Mac works well but I’m also looking at PCs. BTW - I’m open to computer suggestions for photo editing. Thank you for all of your comments!!!

Hi cohen5538,

Great video, thank you for posting! I have not used the “brushes” before to make masks. Perhaps I’m not as adventurous as I should be. I have been using the uniformity slider. I do run into issues of lip color and just some natural redness on the face (some people have) that actually competes with the redness of the lips. Perhaps the brush masks could help me with that?

Hi OxiDant,

I have always been using the orange dot, not the red dot to select for skin tone In HSL. Your examples look very nice. I have the Elite version of PL3, with FilmPack and ViewPoint. I’ve downloaded your presents and I’m excited to give them a try. (I’m not the best at software.) Thank you so much for this; I am sincerly looking to make my portraits much better.