What is Food Photography White Balance
Silvain • updated November 9, 2022 • 4 min read
Silvain • updated November 9, 2022 • 4 min read
One of the most common problems I’ve seen new food photographers struggle with is achieving adequate white balance (colors) and exposure in their food shots.
Of course, because we don’t want our food to have an unpleasant color cast, we must learn and establish white balance correctly. As a result, we must inform our camera what color temperature is “white.”
All modern cameras include an automated mode (AWB – Automatic White Balance), which works quite well until you’re working in low light.
You have finished your food styling and have unwanted yellowish cast? Or did your photos appear bluish-cool? In today’s post, I’ll explain how these yellow or blue tints in photos happen, what’s behind the Kelvin scale, and how you can white balance both in your camera and in photo editing to make your photos look the way you want them to.
By default, your camera performs an automatic white balance when taking pictures. You can find this setting in your camera menu under white balance as “AWB“, which stands for “Automatic White Balance.”
The automatic white balance is usually somewhere between 3000 and 7000 Kelvin. The camera “guesses” at this, and most of the time you will be fine with it.
In this example, you can see how the camera’s auto white balance takes yellowish tones of the pancake and the background. I used manual white balance in the photograph on the right.
Of course, the white balance can be manually altered. On the camera, there are simple pictograms (sun, shade, light bulb, etc.) that assist us determine the suitable color temperature. If there isn’t a specific setting for our lighting scenario,
If there is no obvious choice for our lighting situation, we may just experiment in live mode to see which setting produces the most consistent color rendition.
After we have measured it, we may manually set the correct white balance. White balance is measured by photographing a white or neutral gray object (for example, a gray card) and instructing the camera that this photograph corresponds to white. The exact mechanism differs from camera to camera and is best read in the user manual.
But if you notice that your photos have a yellow or blue cast, you can adjust the white balance settings yourself according to your light source. For example, are you shooting in the shade (about 7,000 K) or under an overcast sky (about 6,000 K)?
Another alternative is to remove or modify light sources. If the sunlight from outside disturbs us because it doesn’t match the color temperature of our flashes, we should simply close the curtain and darken the studio.
We can use color foils for the flash if we like to adjust it to the warm sunlight. These foils, known as CTB or CTO (Color Temperature Blue/Orange) in English, come in a variety of thicknesses and are excellent for matching our flash to the lighting circumstances. If you start out with food photography, read our article about capturing food with natural light.
“Color temperature” is the term used to describe the color of light from a light source. Every light – no matter if it comes from a lamp, a candle, or the sun – can be classified on the so-called Kelvin scale. This ranges from a warm orange-yellow to neutral white to cool blue.
A candle, for example, with its warm light and about 1500 Kelvin is at the lower end of the Kelvin scale. At the blue hour shortly before sunset, the remaining sunlight has a color temperature between 9000 and 12000 Kelvin and thus appears particularly cool and blue.
Sunshine at midday has a value of about 5500 Kelvin. We perceive this as neutral. But be careful: natural daylight changes constantly.
It can be yellowish warm, neutral white, or bluish cool depending on the time of year and day, as well as the weather, and can change within seconds.
Depending on the light source you use to take your photos and its color temperature at that moment, your photos will appear more yellowish, neutral, or blueish.
To counteract this and to ensure that your photos look as realistic as possible, you can use the white balance. It is important that you do not work with mixed light – that is, not with several light sources with different color temperatures. In this case, white balance is difficult to achieve.
We have the distinct benefit as food photographers of not being constrained by the scientifically correct color temperature. Whereas with commercial photography we must catch the colors accurately, in typical food photography we can play on a wider spectrum.
I’ll use Lightroom to modify the color temperature after the fact to better portray the mood of the image, which isn’t always strictly correct.
So, for example, a photo of pizza in a rustic oven with a fire in the background may appear “warmer” to better capture the mood and express the warm, soothing sensation. Find out more about dark and Moody Food Photography.
Finally, in post-processing, we may correct any color casts in the image. This is quite simple if we took our photographs in RAW form.
Then, in Lightroom or comparable image editing software, we can alter the color temperature slider to fit the color mood we want.
Of course, the idea is to achieve the greatest possible result while still in the camera. But we also need to know what is “simple” to fix in post-production and what isn’t.
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