Photography — By Ben on 19 May 2009
White balance

White Balance

The food photography posts that I have written were well-received that I want to do something different now. I want you guys to put into practice this little bit of knowledge that I share on these posts. That’s why I will give you guys some homework (doesn’t that sound exciting?). Every other week I will post an assignment on Food Photographers Club and you can post your experiences and results with the rest of us. Everybody is encouraged to share tips and constructive criticism. Read about the first assignment at the end of this post.

In the last couple of food photography posts I’ve talked about the importance of light in photography. But having a good source of light won’t automatically translate into a perfectly lighted photograph. The reason is that light has different color temperatures that your camera interprets in different ways. Our eyes adjust automatically to these changes of color but cameras are not that smart, yet. That’s why sometimes your pictures come out with an orange, yellow, green, blue or purple look to them.

This issue has haunted photographers for a long time. Film photographers used to carry around a set of filters in our camera bags to deal with the light color. Fortunately, camera makers have spent a lot of money and time to include in modern cameras a feature that assists photographers with this. Most cameras nowadays have a feature that adjusts the way the sensor of your camera perceives the light color. White balance (WB) is the process of removing unrealistic color casts, so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo.

A lot of people avoid this feature because they don’t understand it. But the right white balance can make a big difference in your work, especially when you have to shoot inside and don’t have “professional” lighting equipment. I am not going to explain the technicalities of WB because that would be confusing (and because I don’t remember my photography classes from so long ago) Just remember that the best way to learn about your camera’s features is to experiment with them.

Since every camera is different, I encourage you to dust your camera’s manual and find where this feature is. Read your manual not only to find this feature, but many others that your camera has. You already paid a couple of hundreds dollars (at least) for your camera, why not learn and take advantage of all it can do?

Like in the past posts, the pictures for this post haven’t been edited. The first picture was taken next to a window so it was lighted by natural light. The white balance setting was AWB (Automatic White Balance), a setting that works pretty well under natural light. However, when I closed the blinds and turn on an overhead fluorescent light things changed.

These are the white balance settings I used for the following pictures: cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and AWB. As you can see there is a big difference between cloudy and tungsten and not much of a difference between fluorescent and AWB. Of course, you can edit your photographs afterward with a picture edition software such as photoshop or GIMP. But that will the topic of another post.

And now here’s the first Food Photography Club assignment:

The last three posts have been all about lighting. First we talked about your camera’s manual settings. Then we talked about the source of light and today we talked about White Balance. So what I want you to do for this first assignment is to put it all together. Choose a food subject and shoot it in different light conditions at different settings and write them down. Look at all the pictures you take and choose the one you like the most and share it with us in the forum. This is what I am looking for (if you are not sure what all the following information means, please read my previous 2 posts):

  • ISO (100, 200, 400, etc)
  • Shutter speed (1/250, 1/125, etc)
  • Aperture (f4.5, f 6, etc)
  • White Balance setting (cloudy, AWB, tungsten, etc)
  • Source of light (natural light, fluorescent light, wireless flash, etc)
  • The only editing allowed for this assignment is cropping and resizing.
  • Tell us a little bit about your experience with this assignment. How long it took, where  you shot, what lighting worked best for you or anything else you want to share with us.
  • You have until May 31st to complete this assignment.

I am creating this because a lot of us want to learn more about and be better at taking pictures.  I hope to see you guys and your pictures there.

Happy shooting!

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About Author

grew up around food. His family owned a restaurant in Mexico City and he spent a big deal of his childhood helping and learning after school the art of creating delicious dishes from simple ingredients. He created this blog to share his kitchen adventures with the world.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. This is all pretty interesting, but I’m lucky if I have enough time just to shoot the stupid picture! ;-)

  2. These posts are very informative Ben:D

  3. Me me me! I want to be a part of your club! White balance continues to be a huge mystery for me, so this will be a good exercise. I just bought a canon rebel and have actual read some of the manual. So here we go! Thanks for the idea.

  4. I have a point & shoot so I don’t have all the flexible settings, but I’m still going to give it a try. Thanks for the homework – perhaps it will be the impetus to drag out the manual and see what more I can actually do.

  5. Mighty intrigued by the technicalities Ben. I have a Canon G9 (point & shoot) & would love to learn more. Hope I can do the assignment!

  6. I also have a point and shoot, but I am game to try. My photos on my blog are awful–I want to change that! Thanks!

  7. Ben, another informative post. Like Joan, I have a point & shoot…perhaps a few tips for us would help too?

  8. Thanks, Ben for this informational post!

  9. Great post! I always set the white balance before first before doing anything else.

  10. I have a point & shoot and always shoot on automatic. I have to change that habit. Can you tell us what would be a good DSLR camera to upgrade. Thanks! :)

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