Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Insecure's cinematographer shares how to properly film dark skin

Photo: HBO

Back in the 1940s, Kodak tested the color accuracy of its film by using what it called “Shirley cards,” each of which featured photos of various models. Unsurprisingly, this being the ’40s, all of those models were white, and the result was the concept that, when it comes to filming the human body, caucasian skin is the baseline in terms of lighting and color.

For Ava Berkofsky, the director of cinematography for HBO’s Insecure, this type of thinking has hindered the way filmmakers shoot darker skin. In a new video for Mic exploring how Berkofsky films Insecure’s performers, she shares how, after being taught to shoot dark skin using blue and amber light, she quickly discovered that there’s “not one shade that lights all types of dark skin.”


As such, she’s adopted her own method for Insecure, which involves viewing darker skin as “reflective.” As she explains it, darker skin is best highlighted through a combination of makeup, an attention to the setting’s surface areas, and, in some cases, the use of a polarizer on the lens. It’s not so simple as drawing upon a few specific colors.

Berkofsky’s method is indicative of a larger theme in the series, which aims to depict black culture in ways that its black creators feel are authentic to their experience. As Berkofsky goes to show, that approach extends not just to the show’s stories and themes, but also to its technical aspects.

Share This Story

About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.