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Correct white balance: in only 3 steps

This article is for anyone who wants to know more about how we understand and correct white balance in our professional photography. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why your marble photographic backdrop looks blue in the photo, perhaps it has to do with a simple white balance adjustment.

The subject of white balance is related to color. Color is one of the most important aspects when creating. Color is a tremendous means of communication and is perceived in the animal world in many, many different ways. Even within our species, there are many variations in the way we perceive color.

Color gives us information about things and impacts our emotions. Since we are small we perceive color and we generate a series of more or less subtle conditioning about it. In our adult life those conditionings and notions about color become so ingrained in us that we become attached to them.

In gastronomic photography color is essential because our relationship with food is also very emotional and colors play a role in all aspects of food. They are important when we choose which ingredients we are going to buy at the market. Also when we are preparing and cooking them. And of course, when they are on the table in the form of delicious food.

In a nutshell, having correct white balance means that the colors in your image are true to reality. This phrase is very unscientific as we could be debating what reality is in the first place. Therefore, we will say that this article is not going to try to explain white balance in a technical or scientific way.

Making a good white balance is essential for gastronomic photography because it will make the colors of the food we are showing look more real, and therefore the textures of our photographic backdrops will also look more real. Understanding how gastronomic photography white balance works is very simple and fixing it too. It’s something that has to be done in all photography so it should be as common a practice to your work process as putting salt on food.

Therefore, the aim of this article is to show you how we correct the white balance in a professional and simple way.

These tips and reflections are based on our years of experience as professional photographers. It is a compendium of what we have learned from other photographers and from our experimentation processes. We think it may be interesting to share it but in no way we want to establish any kind of competition on the subject.

1. WHAT IS WHITE BALANCE?.

White balance is your camera’s interpretation of the light. Good white balance is the one that manages to make a balance between the light and the colors we want to achieve so that these appear more real. We could say that the colors of your image are faithful to the colors that have the objects under a white light.

White balance is color balance.

White balance is a button on your camera that serves to balance the color. For us, the goal is to get realistic colors, even if we later want to edit our photos in one way or another. We always try to get a good color balance on our camera.

For us, you should always try to get the photo you want in camera. We are faithful advocates of this idea and it is something we recommend to really understand the processes that occur during a photo shoot.

An example of a situation needing a white balance correction might be a white plate illuminated by the late evening light, as it may appear bluer than it is. To counteract this, the camera’s white balance settings can make the blue cast of the image disappear. Alternatively, it could also be corrected later in the editing software but again, we always recommend trying to get as close as possible to the final image we want to obtain. The way to think about it is that we are changing the light in the scene to transform it from a blue light to a white light, rather than thinking that we are changing the color of the dish. The dish has always been white, what changes is the light.

White balance and color temperature.

These variations in light are called color temperature or color tint. If we talk about the temperature of light, it can be blue (cool) or yellow (warm).

If we talk about light tint, it can be green (cold) or magenta (warm).

Common confusion: a photograph does not have to have a bluish color temperature to be a cold photograph. For example, if we have a photograph of a scene with black, gray and violet colors, and a correct white balance, we will still have a cold photograph. But we will not be able to say that the color temperature of the photo is cold.

White balance and emotions.

We talk about whether a photo is cold or warm because this is something essential when identifying the emotions we want to convey with our image and in this we have some creative license to explore the one that best fits the scene we are photographing.

For example, as an anecdote we are going to tell you that between us there are also differences regarding the level of white balance that we like in our photos. Sara’s photographs tend to have a color temperature that tends slightly towards yellow, while Manuel tends to prefer his photographs slightly bluer.

Therefore, it is important to know where the balance point is and get the most neutral light possible.

White balance in gastronomic photography.

In gastronomic photography, it is especially important to achieve a good white balance. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is essential to get the colors of our food to convey the emotions they are meant to convey.

White balance in photographic backdrops.

For us a good white balance is very important because thanks to this we will make our photographic backdrops look even more realistic. The textures of our photographic backdrops, such as our marble backdrops or our wooden backdrops, are realistic textures.

It is very frustrating to see a white marble backdrop turn blue. Or how a black wood backdrop turns yellowish. So it is important to know how to correct this and make the marble look white.

Color temperature vs color dominance.

Color dominance is when there is a temperature or tint that is very dominant in the image. For example, in the photograph of the sunset that we discussed earlier as an example, we could say that it has a warm or low color temperature, or it has warm dominance or yellow dominance.

Know how it works so as not to use it in certain situations.

There are situations in which it is not ideal to have a white light. Sometimes it can be great to have a very yellow light. For example, the light of a sunset while your group of friends are having a beer on the beach. The moment breathes warmth all around and a white light will not do justice to the situation. This is the moment to leave the color temperature very yellow so that the scene is moving because of its warmth and helps to tell the story we are telling.

2. HOW TO CORRECT THE WHITE BALANCE IN THREE STEPS

1. Understand what type of light is in the scene.

The first thing we do is look to see if the light we are photographing has a large dominance and towards what tone that dominance is. A large dominance can make your image very difficult to save in editing. If the dominance is not too great we can be more relaxed but we still always adjust the white balance in the camera.

But before going crazy to see what our image looks like, the ideal is to think and observe. For example, if we have a huge brick building next door and we are taking pictures in our window with natural light, it is very likely that the light source will be magenta.

It is important to look at our scene and analyze it without the camera. If we do this exercise, the day will come when we will know what setting we need to put on the camera before we touch any buttons.

2. Correct the WB in the camera.

We make our first adjustment on the camera by eye. Of course, this is knowledge that is acquired over time. That’s why it’s important to start testing the different white balance settings as early as possible and repeat the exercise in different lighting situations. Both natural and flash.

Shoot in RAW whenever possible.

The next important point for us is to make sure we are shooting in RAW. The editing margin in RAW is greater as your photograph has more information. All the more reason to get the white balance right if you need to shoot in jpeg as you will have less editing maneuverability afterwards.

Try to be consistent with the light.

If you are doing a shoot for a client and need to deliver 200 photos with consistent color editing, it can save a lot of time if you don’t have each photo at a different color temperature.

Use a gray or white card to gain accuracy.

The card can help you achieve a white balance quickly and very accurately. There are two ways to do this. Photograph the white card and set the camera to adjust the white balance using that card as a reference. Or, photograph the gray card and adjust the white balance with the drop counter in the editing software pointed at the card.

Normally, we adjust the white balance by eye.

Do not use in certain situations.

As mentioned above, sometimes the best white balance is no white balance at all. So the intention will change from trying to get the real color of the object to getting the color of the light source.

3. Correct the WB in editing.

In our case, we use Lightroom as our editing software but our system is pretty standard.

First we bring the image into Lightroom and apply a filter. Sometimes we create a filter specifically for the session and sometimes we use our filter library.

The next thing we always do is to correct the white balance. This is the first manual step in our color editing.

We will copy and paste the settings throughout the series that have the same light source and exposure. In food photography we may adjust the white balance and exposure for 3 or 4 different scenes in a whole session. Proportionally, this would mean changing these general settings every 50 photos for our delivery of 200 photos.

Finally, the photograph may need some manual color or exposure adjustment. We will create another article in which we will cover how we make these manual adjustments.

EXPERIMENT

When applying any photographic technique it is interesting to look at reference articles and opinions. This will be a guide to start the engines and avoid the initial blocks of starting a new technique. However, we always leave room for experimentation.

The way we conduct our experimentation is orderly as we have found that this is the best way to achieve good results.

CONCLUSION.

White balance is something very important in our work process and we think it is the basis on which to start having knowledge and control over the color in your image.

As it belongs to the field of color, white balance is subjective and therefore there will usually be different approaches depending on the photographer. For us, the white balance should always be correct, with very specific exceptions such as a sunset.

White balance in gastronomic photography is even more essential since color in food is a great transmitter of emotions and we want the color of our food to be true to reality.

White balance can be corrected in camera or in editing software. We recommend correcting it in camera and readjusting it a little in the editing software.

To experiment with white balance it is best to have good references and follow specific targets.

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