Have you heard the terms “white balance”, “colour shifts”, and “colour temperature”? Do your have no idea how they relate to your photography? Don’t worry; Taylor Mathis is here to fill you in on what you need to know to always have the correct white balance in your food images.


Every light source has a colour temperature that is measured in units called Kelvins. In most shooting environments, you will have a Tungsten (around 3200K) or Daylight (around 5500K) light source. Tungsten light sources are mainly found in halogen light bulbs. Daylight lighting is found in daylight balanced light bulbs and in natural daylight. The lower you go on the scale, the warmer (more orange) the light will look. The higher you go on the scale, the cooler (more blue) the light will look. Your camera has different white balance modes. Make sure that your camera is set to the correct mode for your light source.


Have you ever worn a bright pink shirt while shooting and found that the whites in your image had a pink tint to them? Have you ever taken pictures at a farmers market under the nice even light below a purple tent and found your images had a purple cast to them? If so, you have experienced a colour shift. If your light source shines through a coloured source (like a red tent) or coloured clothing reflects into the picture, your whites can shift in colour. To prevent this, use clean white diffusion material for your light source and avoid wearing clothing that could cast a colour on set.


Have you ever taken a picture of an all white scene and it turned out grey? When you have a predominantly white scene, your camera wants to expose it as grey. You will have to increase the exposure to make the whites pure white.  Don’t be surprised if you have to significantly increase the color.   


Using a reference card like a WhiBal® or Colour Checker Card allows you to correct your image’s white balance in post-production. In one of your images, place the colour reference card in the picture. If you use Adobe Lightroom® for your post-production, you can place the White Balance Selector tool on the grey of the reference card. This will work for most applications. If you are photographing products where colour has to be 100% accurate then you can take the reference card into Photoshop® and use the curves to achieve precise colour balancing. For your everyday food shooting, the grey of a reference card will do just fine.

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There are times when you will want to have the ability to adjust the white balance of your image in post-production. Maybe you didn’t use a reference card, maybe it was shady outside and you were shooting in sunny white balance mode, but whatever the reason these things can be fixed in post-production. To have the most flexibility, you will need to capture your images as RAW files. Shooting in RAW makes use of all of your camera’s megapixels and captures the most information you can. Having all of this information gives you the most flexibility in adjusting the colour balance.

To sum all of this up, if you

  • shoot in the appropriate white balance mode for your light source,
  • stay away from colour shifts caused by wardrobe and diffusion material and
  • expose properly

you will have no problems with having vibrant whites in your images. If you want to further adjust your colour in post-production, use a reference card and shoot in RAW.

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