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Food Photo Tips: Part 2 - Lighting & White Balance

15 years ago

FOOD PHOTO TIPS: Part 2 - Lighting & White Balance

Hi everyone! For those who are learning to use their cameras, I hope you are still interested in my little tutorials.

As I mentioned previously, I'm recounting only what I've learned or read in the past years while playing with my cameras.

But I hope I can help those who haven't had the chance to experiment as much as I have and who are still struggling with the manual.

So let's go once more to look at setting up by a window in daylight. I'm continuing with the numbering of photo examples in case I need to refer back to any one of them by number.

Side Lighting - Daylight

To continue with indoor daylight exposures, let's move the tripod around to the side and see how the subject looks with a light from the window, coming from the left side...(tomatoes and peach haven't shrivelled yet thank heavens). That's also a very beautiful lighting and it has been seen in many paintings of old masters, such as the Dutch painter {{gwi:1469953}} (remember Girl with the Pearl Earring) where he creates mood magic with light falling from a left window onto household objects and people. We may need a little practice to get the same effect but here you see the highlight on the left side of the tomatoes in the LCD screen Fig. 9.

At this moment the camera is in PORTRAIT mode which is found on the SCENE menu with the icon of a girl's head. Portrait mode is meant for capturing subjects that are fairly close to the camera ....imagine someone sitting on a chair in front of you and you are going to take their portrait. In some, if not most digital cameras, portrait mode has a slight warming effect which is meant to enhance skin tones. So it can also be good for taking food shots. If you are without a tripod, hold the camera firmly and brace your elbows against your sides, remembering to press the shutter button halfway to let the camera focus, then smoothly press the rest of the way down.

Fig. 10 shows a short tripod good for tabletop photos. At this short distance, there will be some slight distortion of the subject. If my table were a little longer I would probably move the camera back a little and zoom in. Fig. 11 shows the same with a piece of white paper at the right to reflect light onto the dark side.

You can see the difference it makes in Fig. 12 where the paper was removed. Look especially at the plate underneath the bowl. Where it is bright in the first photo, it is shadowy in the second. I would need a taller piece of white board or foam to be sure and get the bright reflection on the contents of the bowl as well, although you do see some light reflected on the tomato. Since the camera is so near to the subject I would stay in PORTRAIT mode and add an option to the camera setting by clicking on my TULIP ICON which activates MACRO. (Have I scared you with this?) Sorry. Macro can come later then, but if you have seen that little tulip on the back of your camera,.... well as long as you know that it's for taking closeup photos. It can usually be added in to most other camera settings.Fig. 13 shows the photo the camera took at that position on the tabletop tripod.


You may have seen WB or AWB somewhere on your camera menu as you were searching for something else. It's a pretty important part of setting up your camera for taking photos in all light conditions. Nowadays however digital cameras are pretty smart and with SCENE modes, the manufacturers have tried to think of every possible photo situation you may have, from night shots and fireworks to cuisine and have programmed those settings into the camera. However nothing can equal the human eye and cameras sometimes misjudge the type of light in a scene. That's why as well as the always present AUTO, you have adjustable options for telling the camera what type of light you have.

Fig. 14 shows the window setup using a normal tripod and the camera in Portrait mode. I'm going to take some photos to demonstrate WHITE BALANCE.

In Fig. 15 you see what comes up after I press the MENU option on my little Olympus Stylus 800.

You see the letters WB as the bottom option. Pressing the bottom button would bring up the White Balance menu.

Fig. 16 shows that WB menu open on my other camera, and there you see there are seven options to choose from. ( can see my messy desk.)

AUTO - not hard to figure that out. You let the camera decide what the light temperature is... (warm to cool).

SUNNY - with a sun icon, this is one outdoor setting to choose when you have sun and want to be sure the camera knows that.

CLOUDY - with a cloud icon, this option is also for overcast skies but is nice to use indoors by a window like this one when the light is not too strong.

I nearly always take my food photos indoors by a window with CLOUDY as the white balance setting.

BULB - with a light bulb icon, this is the setting to use under an incandescent, standard light bulb.

Failure to use this setting in evening photos under lamplight will result in the photo having an orange hue.

Using it in daylight will give a strong blue cast to your picture.

FLUORESCENT 1, 2 & 3 - If you've seen and wondered what these centipede icons are on your camera, now you know. Someone had the bright (no pun intended) idea that a fluorescent bulb icon should look like this. Well whatever, we have to accept that it represents fluorescent bulbs. There are three on my cameras, denoting different temperatures of fluorescent bulbs. I find that the first is warm and adds a nice cosy glow to a photo, despite that it may be daylight with no light bulb in sight. The second appears more neutral and the third adds a mauve cast to a photo. I'm speaking now of a comparison of the effects that setting has in a daylight situation. If you are in an office or shop where there is fluorescent lighting, you could perhaps find your white balance menu and try out those three options. The nice thing is that you can see the difference in your viewfinder while you scroll through them before taking a photo.

AWB...stand for auto white balance, which you may see on a screen or in a menu.

I've taken some photos to demonstrate these differences in white balance. I will leave the first seven as thumbnails. But you see as they are a little darker, the differences in the colour temperatures of the WB settings are quite pronounced. They follow the order of my list above, starting with AUTO and ending with FLUORESCENT 3.

You see the heavy blue of photo 4 in both series. That's the result of using the incandescent bulb setting when you are actually photographing with daylight.

It's the correct setting however for under a lightbulb when no daylight is present.

1. Auto

2. Sunny

3. Cloudy

4. Incandescent lightbulb

5. Fluorescent 1 (warm)

6. Fluorescent 2 (neutral)

7. Fluorescent 3 (mauve cast)

The next series of seven photos are full size, with the camera setup just as in Fig. 14, using a white paper SWEEP (that comes later) as a seamless background.

I've also increased the EV ...( exposure value or exposure compensation) a little to brighten the pictures and give the 'heavenly' effect to the backlight. (EV comes later too...don't get scared.) Since I've raised the exposure value (opened up the lens a bit more) the following photos are quite bright and the differences in the white balance is not so noticeable:

Well I hope this hasn't been too much at once. If so, please just ask me to slow down or explain anything that's not clear.

Next time we'll get into lighting by artificial light, how to use a sweep (other than a broom) and correcting the exposure to lighten or darken your photos with a push of your finger on the EV button.

Until then, thanks for joining me. I'll have the next instalment ready soon.

Sharon (Canarybird)

(All text and photos copyrighted)

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