Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side By Side Comparison

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial

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.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
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.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Daylight or Sunny, this setting captured the colors better and really reflects how I saw the colors.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Shade, a bit too golden toned

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Cloudy, better than before but a tad off

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
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.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Tungsten Light, too blue and very wrong.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Flash, a bit better than the previous but still not correct.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
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.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial
Above we can see that both the Daylight/Sunny and Manual/Custom settings both had the best results. Wouldn’t you agree?


Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial

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.

Food Photography Tutorials: White Balance, A Side by Side Comparison on Spicie Foodie | #foodphotography #whitebalance #tutorial

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!!


Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger's Guide to Better Photos, Photography eBook by Spicie Foodie



  1. says

    Thanks so much for these tutorials..
    Had you not visited me..I would not have discovered you:)

    I am following you now of course..
    and since I found you..
    I ordered a little umbrella /stand/reflector kit..should be here this week..I live in QC..and honestly 5 months out of the year,’s dusk at dinner..
    With this kit perhaps I can still take photos later into the evening..Or on really grey days..
    Just to learn and have fun..
    I appreciate you taking the time to teach in this manner.
    Your photos are always perfect:)
    Merçi encore..

    • says

      Thank you Monique! That’s great that you ordered the umbrella kit. I also live where natural light is not available much of the year. Have fun learning and experimenting with your new light:)

  2. says

    Love this tutorial, Nancy! It’s so helpful to see the side by side comparisons. Depending on the time of day, AWB works for me, but lately I’ve found the Daylight setting shows the true colors much better.

  3. says

    it took me forever, when i first started blogging, to figure out what other food photographers were doing to make their photos look so GOOD. oh! EDITING! so helpful :) nice to learn about the settings on the camera, too.

  4. says

    Your photos are stunning. A great post, so much to learn re: photography as mine are pretty pathetic. Thanks for sharing.


  5. says

    Great tutorial on white balance! I love the side by side comparisons. Setting the white balance correctly is a habit I’ve had to develop. At first I would forget, then when I looked at the playback, I would realize something was wrong. I usually use the settings provided by the camera, but every once in a great while I’ll actually do a custom balance. Great post Nancy!

  6. says

    White balance is something I totally struggle with. I’ve tried doing it manually, but do not have the patience to get it right. Typically, I use manual and then adjust it (if needed) in Photoshop. But one day, I am going to set up a shot like you did and take a pic under each setting and then successfully tackle the manual white balance.

    • says

      Hi Laura! Manual really does require time and patience — not something I always have. But if you start saving your manual settings they can come in handy for other photos. You should totally do a shot like this Laura, it’s what finally helped me understand WB. Thanks:)

  7. says

    Very interesting and informative tutorial. Thanks for sharing this. You made me want to start playing with my camera’s white balance immediately… alas, it’s night and dark in here. :)

  8. says

    What a great story Nancy! I am sure so many people would find this useful. I always set the white balance manually using a white card. When I edit my raw images I will then consider adjust the white balance slightly if needed.

  9. says

    Thank you so much dear friend! I attended a photography class 2 weeks ago and did not learn anything compared to what you have kindly shared here!


  10. says

    Great tutorial, this is one thing I need to pay attention too. May I suggest a tutorial on shooting indoors in the evening…like for those who often cooking and shoot at night after a day of work. I am sure many people would like more info on that scenario.

          • hulya says

            Hello , Amazing photos… I enjoy to watch your workd.. beautiful style, perfect angles and great informations.. Thank you.. I will be following you.

            I am still trying to get better on close up shots, sunsets, portraits, flowers and especially on food photography.. I always use Auto as White balance. Somehow i can never get good result with manuel. :( I use 50mm 1.8 and also sigma 105mm 2.8 ( for macro or close up details) Still can not get photos like you do.. My problem is i have all artificial ligh sources and reflectors, etc.. but do not know how to use them. Is there any photo that shows when you set your table for food photo which shows where is the window, where is the reflector and how high it is ( which angle) and all necessary details to capture photos like you do which seems so real to me.. I love to touch the food on your photos.. They are so real.. :) THANK YOU

  11. AJEESH C PAULY says

    Thank you so much Nancy Aka for sharing your experience,It is really helpful……Thank you..!!

  12. says

    Hi Nancy, I found this segment very helpful – lucid, well explained and illustrated. I’ve read a number of other features on white balance but none of them seemed to capture the concept quite as well as you have done here. I was so pleased that I just purchased your e-book :) — it’s a pleasure to support your efforts — thanks Nancy!

    • says

      Hi Kelly,

      I’m glad you found and enjoyed my article, it’s why I love to write them. Thank you for purchasing a copy of Yummy Pics — enjoy. Happy New Years and best wishes to you and yours.:)

  13. says

    This is an awesome post,very helpful for someone like me,even though owing a dslr could not get the best out of it.Now digging all your posts :)

  14. says

    Nancy, Thank you. I went through your post the other day. I have never played with the white balance settings before. Today, when I was not able to capture a pic right, i recollected your post and I think I got the colours right! thanks :)

  15. says

    Nancy!!! I know I have already commented on this post but I swear, I just can’t seem to get over it! I can see my photography improving. Today, I was able to shoot a recipe under not so great light conditions. “Do the colors look the way they do to my naked eye” has sorta become my mantra now! You have done a great job explaining white balance. Thank you girl! :)

    • says

      Hi Prash! Thank you so much and I’m thrilled that the tutorial has helped you out — that’s why I love writing and sharing my knowledge. Keep up the great work!:)


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