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How To Photograph White on White

Contrast is the easiest thing to photograph- because there is an automatic separation between the subject and the background. But what do you do if you have a subject that is the same color as the background? Especially if you do e-commerce (product) photography, you may come across an instance where you will have to photograph a white product on a stark white background! 

The difficulty with capturing this is the obvious- the color is the same, so making the subject stand out can be challenging. However, you can remedy this flaw by position your lights correctly, setting the white balance, understanding exposure, and a little bit of Photoshop magic! Read below on how to accomplish this! 

Step 1: Position Your Lighting 

First and foremost, using artificial lighting to help bring the subject away from the background is a key tip for white-on-white photography! 

For separation between the subject and the background, you can do the triangle arrangement with three lights. Place one light in front of your subject, and two lights behind the subject on either side. Aim all of the lights towards the subject. 

Step 2: Set Your White Balance 

As you can imagine, to shoot white properly you’re probably going to want to adjust your white balance. Although the white balance is not specifically for the color white (it’s used for all colors), white balance really shines when capturing a white subject on a white backdrop. 

To explain what white balance is, we must first define the term Color Temperature. Color Temperature determines if colors are cold, warm, or neutral depending on the amount of light present. The white balance settings adjust colors so that they look more natural, or accurate to the scene. White balance gets rid of something known as a Color Cast. Color Casts are visible tints in an image. For example, a blue color cast makes every color look very cold and blue-ish. In order to reduce color cast, white balance adjusts the temperature to bring colors back to their natural state. 

Now, what do you do with white-on-white? 

Properly set your white balance according to your light source or shooting environment. Without this important step, your white product will have a really bad color cast of either orange or blue, and you want it to be true white! You can take preview images of each white balance setting until you find the right one. 

Step 3: Adjust a Proper Exposure 

Exposure is the amount of light that reaches your camera. Too much light and your image will be too bright, called overexposure. Too little, and it’ll be too dark, called underexposure. 

Exposure is a formula, sometimes demonstrated as a triangle: ISO + shutter speed + aperture = exposure. Like a mathematical formula, if one variable is changed, the rest are affected by the change. 

White has the problematic issue of being overexposed. Overexposed highlights have lost information and cannot be brought back. As such, underexpose a bit. Make sure that your aperture is fairly narrow to capture all of the detail, ISO is low to overexpose and reduce noise, and shutter speed is adjusted to accommodate the other settings. 

Step 4: Take the Shot

Once your settings are adjusted and sample shots show a proper exposure and white balance, go ahead and take the shot! It is suggested to shoot in RAW format for the editing capabilities. 

RAW is a file format that is famous for recording completely uncompressed images. 

You see, when a photograph gets recorded as a file format, it becomes compressed to fit within that format and you may lose some quality or some forms of editing capability. Basically, RAW contains the direct image data from the camera sensors with no loss of quality and alteration. This stores the fullest details of an image. 

With RAW, the lack of file alteration allows significantly more control over large editing adjustments such as overblown highlights or an underexposed image. This is because you’re able to, in most situations, recover information in the image that would otherwise be lost if it is compressed. 

Step 5: Post Processing 

Now, white on white very likely needs a bit of editing magic once the photograph is taken. Go ahead and plug your card into the computer and load the chosen images into either Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, or any other editing software that you prefer to use. 

You may notice that your photographs can have shadows in them. You can fix this in Photoshop using the “burn and dodge” tool. Using this, you can pull those edges away from your background. Once you’ve done that, you can lighten up your background a bit and you’ll be all set. 

In conclusion, white on white photography isn’t as daunting as it seems. It’s all about making sure the subject stands out from the background!