Thursday, March 01, 2012

Improving Indoor Photos: An Epiphany

I wrote not too long about some blogging tips that I had recently picked up, which included the importance of taking good-quality pictures. I'm kind of ashamed to say how long I went without knowing basic things about photography, like how much better pictures look when taken in natural light as opposed to indoors.

Unfortunately, the only time I really can take pictures in natural light is during the weekend. I work full time during the week, so by the time I get home, it's pretty much dark out (though spring is coming and I can tell because the days are getting longer - hooray!) so anything I want to take pictures of on the weekdays are taken in poor lighting and come out yellow-tinged.

See the picture of my Potatoes Romanoff? While the top layer of this dish is yellow cheddar, the rest of it was actually pretty white - but the whole thing just came out yellow. Very, very yellow. Blech. Even though it's extremely delicious, if all I knew about the dish was what it looked like based on this picture, I probably wouldn't even click on the recipe. (But you should - because that's a terrible picture and does the dish absolutely no justice whatsoever. You'll just have to trust me.)

I own a pretty basic point-and-shoot digital camera - a Sony Cyber-Shot - and had fiddled with the lighting options to see how I could fix the horrid yellow tinge that haunts all of my indoor, night-time pictures, but I had no success in fixing it. I also recently learned that using the flash does not fix the problem. It tends to just wash the picture out, but doesn't really get rid of the yellow.

Today I decided to try to look up some tips about how to improve my indoor pictures. I had actually started out just looking for online photo editors that could get rid of the yellow, but then came across this entry on More Fruit Please about indoor photography and addressing the problem by adjusting your camera settings.

The best thing to do is to try to adjust the white balance on your camera. Even a basic point and shoot camera would probably have a setting that you can fiddle with. See if you can find a manual setting. My camera has several white balance settings, like the auto setting or the ones for cloudy days, fluorescent lighting, or sunny days that the camera adjusts automatically, but those auto settings still left my pictures yellow. Adjusting the manual setting is much more effective.

I looked up the manual for my camera online (there is no way I would be able to find it now - I put things like that in "safe" places, which means I never find them again) and Control-F'ed through the document until I found a section on setting the white balance manually. I went to the only setting on my camera that allows manual adjustment of the white balance, since the "easy" photo setting limits me just to an automatic white balance adjustment. I then went to the menu for that setting and scrolled through the options until I found the white balance section. I then chose the option called "One Push Set," which allows you to set the basic white level manually by taking a picture of a white object. That sets the basic white level in the lighting conditions in which the picture is taken.

I selected that option and took a picture of a white paper napkin in my kitchen, where I take the most pictures at night for my blog, making sure the napkin filled the whole screen. Take your picture of your white object in the spot where you will be taking your indoor pictures the most so that the basic white level is adjusted for that specific lighting.

That one change in my camera settings made the most amazing difference. I took a picture of some avocado in my hand mixer/food processor before figuring this all out, and then took another picture of the same item afterwards (after some clean-up, as you can see from the lack of avocado pits on the chopping board in the second picture). I did have to fix the exposure on both photos using Picnik by upping the "highlight" setting because the light was dim, but I adjusted the highlight setting the same amount on both. While the exposure fix brightened both of the pictures up, the one I took before adjusting the white balance is still pretty yellowish. The one I took after adjusting the white balance is nice and clean and looks so much better.

I'm so excited about how much better my photos will look now. If you've had issues with your indoor pictures, I'd highly recommend taking a few minutes to try to find that setting on your camera and adjusting it. What a quick and easy way to improve picture quality!


  1. Wow, what a difference!!

  2. I know, it's so much better. I never would have bothered finding the manual and scrolling through all those menus if not for your post, so thanks again!


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