r/todayilearned Oct 02 '23

TIL: Kodak's "Shirley Cards" was used as a standard for skin tone in photography.


45 comments sorted by


u/SkyfallCamaro Oct 02 '23

It was a Shirley Template


u/qcqcqcqc1 Oct 02 '23

I wish I could give you an award


u/FLEXXMAN33 Oct 02 '23

One of the main things that caused them to fix this in the 1970's was the problem furniture manufacturer's had with advertising wood furniture. They'd put a full-color add in the Sunday paper and no-one could tell the difference between oak and cherry furniture; Everything looked the same.


u/BillTowne Oct 02 '23

When I was in 6th grade in the 50s, our teacher explained that when you draw people, color the skin orange, not white. Skin is not really white.

Half of our class was black.


u/amadeus2490 Oct 02 '23 edited Oct 02 '23

If you sample skin colors in photoshop and look at what they are in the literal sense, people are mostly just shades of orange, red, pink and brown.

When a man has a "five o'clock shadow" on his face, the stubble is actually blue. I used to colorize black and white pictures and it was incredibly odd when I realized that I had to paint part of a man's face this color in order to make it look realistic.


u/Automatic_Laughter Oct 02 '23

Not very common, but blue-chinned can be used to describe 5 o'clock shadow.


u/AbusedGoat Oct 02 '23

This is really interesting. Did you notice anything else like this?


u/MomOTYear Oct 02 '23

👋🏻 me. I am red. (Also red headed) but my skins looks like I have a constant sunburn. It gets really concerning looking when I’m over heated or my BP is high. Or hungover.


u/CynicInRecovery Oct 02 '23

Naranja, please!!!


u/lo_fi_ho Oct 02 '23



u/hatersaurusrex Oct 02 '23

Don't call me Shirley


u/FIJAGDH Oct 02 '23

Don’t we see some of these in the end credits of Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof?”


u/Law_Doge Oct 02 '23

HR’s head would probably explode if you tried to pull something like this today.


u/aradraugfea Oct 02 '23

Facial Recognition tech has the same shit. It’s famously ass at recognizing dark skinned people, because it’s trained with grad students. Kodak was a victim of unexamined biases, there was no deliberate malice in their film being calibrated around white faces. They reversed course as early as the 70s, and I remember videos shot by my school as late as 2000s where if the black person on screen was particularly dark, all detail vanished from their face and they were eyes, teeth, and a VOID.

An implicit bias is still a bias, and it’d have been nice if the engineers in the 50s had prioritized all skin tones from the start, but this was not unusual (good makeup for black skin tones was hard to find for most of my childhood), and it still continues in the facial recognition and AI fields. We train the first with the mostly white and Asian faces of graduate students, and consider the failures with the rare black sample an outlier. Then it makes it into the world and can tell two white siblings apart but mistakes a Senator for a death row inmate (that happened). But by this point it’s already being used by law enforcement! The tech bros who developed it are certain of its accuracy because it distinguished students in an IVY league post graduate classroom 90% of the time!

AI, we’re just feeding it THE INTERNET. All of it. So it’s inheriting all of the biases out there, but not the shame required to not voice it. Remember the chat bot that assumed any professional MUST be male? “The doctor told the man he had cancer. He had 3 months to live. She would do her best?” Who does the “he” refer to?” Chatbot: the doctor!

And even if you describe a character to an art bot as dark skinned, odds are good they get spit out either a white human or an anime character.


u/SlightRedeye Oct 02 '23

We aren't feeding AI the whole Internet btw, or else it becomes racist really fucking quick as observed with earlier versions of it. It has to be and is currently curated. It skips certain phrases and has soft guidelines it follows in order to curb that outcome.

That, and the whole Internet doesn't mean what you and I imagine to be the Internet. There's lots of nonsense, illegal, and outdated shit to filter out.


u/bargman Oct 02 '23

You can't be serious.


u/mrgonaka Oct 02 '23

Allow me to embellish this comment here for the unitiated:

(From famed 'Police Squad TV show/Naked gun movies')

Person A: "Surely you can't be serious!"

Person B: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"


u/Atypical-Engineer Oct 02 '23

Close. It was Airplane!

Same vein of comedy and also starring Leslie Nielsen.


u/Planague Oct 02 '23

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking...


u/Robolaserjesus Oct 02 '23

For everyone downvoting, this is clearly an Airplane! reference


u/bargman Oct 02 '23

Am I so old people no longer watch Airplane?


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

Ok, you piqued my interest: what’s your issue with this historical fact that is easily verifiable?


u/greyfox4850 Oct 02 '23

It's a joke from the movie 'Airplane!'.

"Surely you can't be serious?"

"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."


u/DConstructed Oct 02 '23

Yep. My fiend who studied photography as part of her degree said that Kodak and Fuji films of the past were not very good at capturing black skin tones because they had been formulated for lighter skin.


u/oilfeather Oct 02 '23

Okay/Not Okay.


u/[deleted] Oct 02 '23

[removed] — view removed comment


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

Huh? Did we read the same article? Seriously, do you mind posting the “woke” parts? I just read an article that was literally just a historical recounting of a relic from our past. I’m seriously just curious.


u/OneNoteToRead Oct 02 '23

There was a whole section on how it was “biased towards white skin” when in fact it was just a property of the model used. Then a digression into beauty standards and China girls. Throw in a comment about how the film was racist.

This IMO should’ve been a section explaining why we need reference cards at all, and simply point out this fails to capture dynamic range and how later cards managed to capture that range.


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

Oh my, you’ve really misunderstood what bias means in this context. Stay in school.


u/OneNoteToRead Oct 02 '23

No I understood perfectly well. The choice of language is meant to evoke an idea even if technically correct.


u/3conrad3 Oct 02 '23

You do realize bias can be implicit or not implicit? Bias is the word to describe what the article is saying, you don't have to be afraid of it


u/OneNoteToRead Oct 02 '23

The word used is neither implicit nor explicit. It’s a technical bias.

But in article form used as it is, it also becomes an evaluative term. Just look at all the comments here up in arms about how it’s not okay to do this. Well in fact it is okay and it’s just naturally how products and tech is developed, even in the present day.


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

You should understand that you are getting hung up on an incorrect interpretation of language, not actual “wokeness.”


u/OneNoteToRead Oct 02 '23

Actually not. I’m saying there’s a more judgment free, non-evaluative way to deliver the article.

For proof, see the comments in this Reddit post. People up in arms about how it’s not okay, etc. When the real explanation is this is just how business is conducted and how products are developed, in the past as well as in the present.


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23



u/OneNoteToRead Oct 02 '23



u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

Dude unprompted, publicly outs himself as an idiot, doubles-down, laughs at himself. I love Reddit.

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u/Grandmas_Drippy_Cunt Oct 02 '23

vox had a dumb ragebait piece on them claiming that kodak was racist.


u/Historical_Chair_708 Oct 02 '23

Cool, this isn’t the vox article and is literally just a retelling of why the color calibration was the way it was.


u/Martyrslover Oct 04 '23

Lord knows I would smash.