I’m usually good with color, but I totally messed up the white balance on our last shoot. Most of the time I set my camera to Daylight White Balance and call it a day, but on this session, I was using a couple of vintage (fancy for old) softboxes that had a serious yellow tint. I could see the boxes had a color issue, but just like every other lazy photographer in the world, I said “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.”
What’s White Balance
This is a complicated subject, but I’ll try to explain it in simple terms. Camera sensors are made up of Red, Green, and Blue pixels. When an image is captured, the camera mixes theses colors together to create a neutral scene. If the camera mixes these wrong, then you end up with an image that looks like a funky Polaroid from the 70’s.
If you’re thinking, why doesn’t the camera just get it right? Here’s the problem: the world isn’t color neutral. Afternoon light is warm; morning light is cool; candlelight is red; florescent light is green etc. Our eyes automatically compensate for these color casts, but cameras don’t have it so easy. This is where white balance comes into play. To compensate for these various color casts, cameras create different balances of red, green, and blue to create a neutral white.
Most of the time the camera gets it right, but it frequently needs some help. This is why cameras and photo editing software have manual white balance controls.
Why Correct Color is Important
Actually, for food photography it isn’t that important. Most of the time, morning food is cool and evening food is warm. If you need to manipulate the color to make something look right, go for it. Some may argue this point, but I have yet to see a Hot Pocket that looks as delicious as the package.
Despite this fact, you should still work in a color managed environment. Color may not be critical, but it’s part of any professional practice. Tomes have been written on this subject, but the best way to manage color is with a Spydercube and an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport.
Lightroom makes white balance so easy it’s stupid. Here’s how you do it: (see image below)
1) Click on the Develop Module
2) Select the white balance dropper in the Basic Panel
3) Move the dropper over a patch of light grey
4) Watch the RGB values in the hovering pixel panel
5) When the RGB values are nearly identical, click on the patch and have a beer
6) Seriously, that’s it. You’re done so have a cold one
For the picture above, I knew I was working on a neutral surface so I could color balance later. If I wasn’t, I would have used a QP card for a neutral reference point.
It’s easy to get obsessed about color, so don’t. Stick with a few inexpensive QP cards along with a color calibrated monitor and you should be alright. The most important thing is that the food looks good. If it doesn’t, nobody is going to care about the color.