Thursday, February 18, 2010

Photographing White Objects


Photographing a white object, be it birds, flowers, snow, sand, or clothing, can be one of the most difficult things to do well. The biggest key to achieving the proper exposure is by learning to see what your camera is seeing. Two weeks ago, I talked a bit about black and white photography and its effect on color photography. I'd like to pick up again on that train of thought.

You must first know that standard cameras "see" images in black and white and create color using something called RGB color space. Simply put, this means that each photo has some red, some blue, and some green in it. Looking back at my previous examples, the apple itself is red. But in each of the black and white versions, I altered either the amount of red, green, or blue to achieve a different effect.

P2035213-1600 P2035213-BW1
P2035213-BW2 P2035213-BW3

Let's look at another example. Here we see the color version of this photograph and a grayscale version. The grayscale (black and white) version is more how the camera saw this image. Notice especially that the yellow on the bird's bill looks almost white and the green grass looks to be what I will call a mid-range gray.

Snowy Egret egret-BW

Half the battle in photographing whites is in understanding metering. Metering determines what the camera sees as white, black, or gray. With all three of the most common types of metering, spot, center-weighted (average), and matrix (often also called ESP or Evaluative), the camera uses a certain formula to determine, based on the lighting in the scene, what color will be mid-range gray. Once it has chosen this shade of gray, then all the other tones are made lighter or darker than that.

Small Waterfall, Anna Ruby Falls, Georgia

This brings me to the two common mistakes in photographing whites: either the whites look too gray or they appear to be "a white blob". In either case, this was the result of incorrect metering. In the first case, the camera thought the white object was the mid-range gray object and so it eliminated the whites entirely. In the second case, the camera turned the darkest area, what should have been your blacks, into mid-range gray. This placed too much white to the scene and left no black.

Both problems can be avoided by knowing what objects in the scene should be mid-range gray. By pointing my camera at what is supposed to be gray, I can capture the proper amount of white and the proper amount of black. If afterward I can see the whites are still too bright or too dark, I can then use EV, typically shown as a + or - sign, to lower or raise the highlights in increments.

Dogwood Blossom

Photographing whites does not have to be difficult. It is again, as I have said so many times, a matter of having the right knowledge you need to make the best decisions. With this knowledge you will achieve more consistent results and in the end enjoy photography so much more.

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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