Food photography isn’t for everyone. While sandwiches can’t talk back, shiny surfaces, unreliable lighting and difficult to photograph foods (hi brown stews) present challenges that nature or portraits just don’t entail.

While you’re still mastering the basics of camera settings and the holy trinity that is f/stop/shutter speed/ISO as discussed in lesson one, we’re wading into deeper waters now, focusing on colour balance and temperature, and what that means to consistent and delicious food photos.

Colour Balance and Temperature

The difference between available natural lighting artificial indoor lighting presents a frustrating balancing act for any photographer. Overhead fluorescent lighting, in the basement of the St Lawrence Market for example, is shadowy, slightly yellow and not representative of what the human eye sees.

Before colour balancing, Anjum, aka The Spice Tailor is cast in yellow tones

White balance is an extremely important element of a good picture, especially for food photography. There are a few methods to ensure your colours are picture perfect, through the white balance setting. While you can get precise results from using the custom white balance feature by shooting an 18% grey card (available at all camera shops or even print your own) in an even light. For most occasions the auto white balance (AWB) does a fairly decent job of calibrating the colour correctly. The scale is based on the Kelvin system with a numerical number attached to the colour, ranging from 2500-10000. A perfect sunny day usually rings in at about 5000. A dimly lit bar will be closer to 2000. I find AWB works for in camera settings, and if I need to make adjustments after, then Lightroom does a quick and easy job of it in post-production.

After colour balancing, the greens look the right shade and the lights in the background shine a bright white

Any decent DSLR will have a menu function for setting your white balance. Other handy options include daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and flash. Advanced options include custom where you manually shoot a grey card and instruct your camera to record the white balance at that temperature, or Kelvin, where you adjust the level based on the numerical value.

The Histogram

By pressing the INFO button while reviewing photos, you’ll access your histogram. A histogram shows exact levels of tonal ranges, on the far left (blacks) shows your blackest blacks, too far (low) results in an underexposed and dark image. Too far right (highlights) and it’s blown out and over-exposed. A good indicator of colourful and well balanced image shows a mountain like shape, with peaks in the middle.

Here, the ranges from black to white are kept in balance, and as a result, the colours on the plate are popping

Uniform and even natural lighting lends a softness to the background of this image, which forces the gaze directly on the hero object: the food.

All photos by Libby Roach. Got a question? Need specific help? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to reply!