One of the most important factors in food photography is correct white balance. The proper setting will not only make food look natural but also more appetizing.
A camera’s White Balance settings are what help it correctly capture the colors in the shooting scene as our eyes see them. The mechanics in digital cameras, including those in tablets and phones, do not see colors the same as the human eye. Instead, cameras capture color based on what type of light is being used to light the scene. Every light source has a different color temperature output. This temperature then affects how the colors in the scene will look in our exposures and what the correct white balance setting should be.
In other (basic) words, white balance is the setting we use to make sure that whites, in a photograph, come out white and all other colors look the same as we see them in real life. Pretty simple, right?
Previously I mentioned light sources having different color temperatures, you also need to know that those temperatures are measured in Kelvin. The temperatures range from 1,000K all the way to 10,000K, and they produce from golden warm colors to bluish tones — of course all depending on the type of light that was used. My ebook, Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger’s Guide To Better Photos, has a whole section further explaining this so please refer to it.
Additionally we all need to know how to adjust the White Balance settings on our cameras. If you don’t know how, please refer to your camera’s manual. Within your camera’s White Balance menu you will be given several options. The most common, and basic, options are Auto, Daylight/Sunny, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten, or Flash. More advanced cameras will also have a Custom or Manual setting. Again it is a good idea to refer back to either my ebook or your camera’s manual for detailed explanation on what all these different settings mean and how they affect the colors in our photos.
The majority of you most likely shoot with natural or sunlight, therefore the Daylight or Sunny white balance setting is what you’ll be using. Of course if this is not the case then adjust the camera accordingly. Today I want to share a visual walkthrough of the different white balance settings and how they are captured in this photo.
This small bowl of peanuts was shot in late afternoon on a sunny day. I shot them indoors using a large window that is to the left of the peanuts. Though it was a sunny day my window does not receive direct sunlight, this makes it an ideal shooting situation as there is no need to soften the window light with a diffuser or white curtain. The f-stop, shutter speed and ISO don’t matter much in this case since we are talking about white balance settings, regardless you’ll notice that they stayed the same in every shot. You’ll also see the word SOOC on every photo, this stands for Straight Out Of Camera and it means there was no modifications to the photos. Now let’s take a look at how all the different White Balance settings on my camera effect the colors in this photo.
Auto or Auto White Balance or AW, the colors aren’t bad but they could be better. Many times you can get away with this setting, but don’t rely on it because it might cause more post work for you.
Daylight or Sunny, this setting captured the colors better and really reflects how I saw the colors.
Shade, a bit too golden toned
Cloudy, better than before but a tad off
Fluorescent Light, obviously this is way off as the colors do not look natural at all. Notice how much they changed from the previous photos.
Tungsten Light, too blue and very wrong.
Flash, a bit better than the previous but still not correct.
Manual or Custom, I manually adjusted the colors and settings until the photo looked as my eyes saw the peanuts. You can see that it looks much like the colors in the Daylight setting.
In a future tutorial we will talk more about how to use the Manual/Custom setting. But for now here’s a side-by-side of all the different White Balance settings and how they effected the colors in the photo.
Above we can see that both the Daylight/Sunny and Manual/Custom settings both had the best results. Wouldn’t you agree?
This last sample above is a snapshot from Yummy Pics. The top samples were shot similar to the peanut photos here, and the bottom were shot using tungsten light.
If you shot RAW then getting the white balance correct in the camera isn’t that important. The reason of course being that it can be corrected in Photoshop after capture. But even if that is the case I still like to get as much as possible correct while I’m shooting, the less Photoshop work I have then the more time I can spend practicing with my camera.
I also want to stress that you avoid shooting with mixed light source — specially if you are a beginner. For example, even though I was inside when I shot these photos I only used the sunlight coming in through my window, all the light fixtures in the room were shut off. Had I left the overhead lamp turned on the white balance would have been completely wrong. This would mean that in order to capture the colors correctly I would have to manual set the white balance using a white-card or fix it in Photoshop. I really recommend that you stick with one light source.
Another thing I often recommend is investing in a photo editing software. You really don’t have to spend the hundreds of dollars that Photoshop CS (a professional software) costs. There are so many less expensive options, like Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop, Aperture, and Lightroom, not to mention other free softwares available. Below is a side by side comparison of what very minor editing can do to transform a photo. The first thing I tweaked was the white balance, I adjusted it further to get the best colors possible. You’ll also notice that the washed out and flatness are replaced by a vibrant photo with a wide range of tones.
I hope you enjoyed this basic tutorial. If you’d like to learn more about food photography, general photography basics and how I shoot my pictures for Spicie Foodie, please consider buying a copy of Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger’s Guide To Better Photos. Thanks!!