White Balance and Photographing Food

Food is one of the more sensual experiences we encounter in our daily life.
It is one of the few places where we fully enjoy four of the five senses
all in one experience - smell, touch, taste and sight. Of these senses, sight
is often the gateway to the food experience.

White Balance is crucial for food photography. It helps us capture the color
of the food accurately. And, white balance can help set the mood for the
senses of smell and taste.

How white balance works:
White balance is the only setting on your camera dedicated to color. Other settings,
such as contrast and saturation, may bias colors to richer or softer hues. White balance
is the only setting that makes red look red and blue look blue.

In the days of film photography, most film was balanced to be shot in daylight.
Photographs made outdoors had beautiful, accurate color. The film was not balanced
for shooting indoors under artificial light. The color would shift and look unnatural
(and often ugly) under fluorescent, tungsten or halogen lights. To correct the problem,
film photographers would either use a colored filter in front of the lens or a flash
to bring the colors back to looking normal. 
Video and digital cameras solved the bad color problem by adding color sensors
and electronic filtration. When your digital camera senses amber light from a
light bulb it electronically shifts the color back to a natural color balance.

Auto white balance works great when photographing average scenes with a good
balance of color. AWB can work very poorly when one color predominates.
That's where food photography comes in; fruit and vegetables often have rich,
powerful colors that dominate an image. AWB sees these strong colors and thinks
the camera is being used in artificial light. The camera adds the complimentary color
(red-cyan, yellow-blue, orange-violet) in order to neutralize the color. The result
is often less than vibrant, beautiful colors.

Correcting the problem is straightforward. In Program, Aperture Priority,
Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes activate the white balance control
(usually labeled WB) and shift the white balance to match your light source.

When done shooting, be sure to return your white balance to its usual setting.
Auto White Balance
Camera responds to warm colors of peppers
and adds cool colors to compensate.

Daylight White Balance
brings out warm colors of peppers
in natural light at the market.


Auto White Balance
makes artichoke head look cool
and unappetizing.

Daylight White Balance
brings out warmer colors and makes
artichoke more appealing.

Auto White Balance
accentuates the cool colors of the leaves.

Cloudy/Overcast White Balance
accentuates warm colors of the fruit.

Depth of Field at Different F-stops

Here is a set of comparison photos of the same macro subject taken at different f-stops. Each of these photos have photographic and artistic merit. It is a matter of personal opinion as to which image is best.

The cucumber vine and leaf were about 10 inches from the camera. The background leaves were 1 to 1.5 feet behind the subject.

All of the photos were taken at the same time using a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon 30D camera, using a tripod and remote.

1/1600 sec.   f/2.8  ISO 400


1/640 sec.   f/4.5  ISO 400

1/320 sec.   f/6.3  ISO 400

1/200 sec.   f/8  ISO 400

1/100 sec.   f/11  ISO 400

1/30 sec.   f/22  ISO 400

Photo of the Week - August 1, 2012

Honey Bee pollinating Artichoke Flower
Marra Farm
Seattle, WA
August 1, 2012

Nestled between highways 99 and 509 in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle is one of two working farms in the city of Seattle. Marra Farm began its life over a century ago, when Italian truck farmers worked the land and grew vegetables they sold at the Pike Place Market. Since the late 1990’s, the farm has been home to community groups and individual p-patch gardeners. The farm serves as a teaching resource for inner city children; a garden which produced 22,000 pounds of food for local food banks in 2010; and, a source of food for residents who grow food in p-patch gardens.
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Marra Farm page

Solid Ground Marra Farm Giving Garden page



Google map showing Marra Farm:

View Larger Map

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