Image Doctor: Smiles
Photographer: marius brecher
Lens: EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
Shutter Speed: 1/100
Adjustments: Level adjustment trying to bring more focus to the front while pushing the background.
Photographer's Comments: Making friends with a few Fijian kids going about their happy care free life. I did not like the extra bright light that day, whitening the background, but i think that with a bit of level adjustment I have managed to bring the smiling faces a bit more into focus.
Image doctor's advice
Photographing dark skin tones against a bright background is never easy.
More often than not some people resort to using fill flash when making photographs like this. The problem with fill flash is that it never looks convincing; in a situation like this you are likely to get spectral highlights from the face, but in bright conditions you are also likely to find that the camera will shut down the aperture as it tries to work within the shutter sync speed range.
In a situation like this I am more inclined to work in RAW mode. Unlike working in JPEG mode, RAW mode has a far greater dynamic range; in this instance there is every chance that you could have saved highlights in the sky while at the same time bringing out the detail in the faces.
I have a feeling that you have adjusted the levels over the entire image. That has not only pulled up the details in the faces but overly lightened the background. Instead of doing this, you'd be better off using the Lasso tool in Photoshop with the feathering adjustment set to about 30 pixels; then select the curves adjustment to gently adjust the highlight point and the middle curve of the graph to get the face was looking good. Alternatively, if you have Lightroom you can use the Brush tool to selectively brighten the faces and darken the background. See our tutorial "Photo Tip of the Week: How To Selectively Adjust Tone in Lightroom" for more guidance.
Hopefully you still have the original file of this photograph and you can go back and experiment with it some more.
Cheers for now, Anthony.
Image Doctor's edited version