Photographing Your Artist Books Tip #1 - White Balance

Photographing Your Artist Books Tip #1 - White Balance

Preparing photos of your book art for submission to a juried show? This series covers five tips to make sure your books are shown to jurors in the very best light possible. This tip covers the number one most common problem with images submitted to our juried shows: strange color casts caused by common household tungsten light bulbs.

Tip # 1: Neutralize Your Colors

If you do only one thing to the photos of our books, do whatever you can to achieve a neutral “white balance.” This means that the white areas of your book actually look white, or neutral. This correction alone will make a huge difference in how your books are presented to the jurors. We'll assume you are using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to edit your images. The same results can probably be achieved with any other image editing software that you may already have. Even Apple's free iPhoto software does a good job correcting images.

  • First, try to capture the best image possible in your camera, rather than trying to edit your image later. Do this by setting your camera’s white balance for whatever kind of light bulbs you will be using when you shoot the photos of your book. Set the tungsten or incandescent setting in your camera if you are using regular household incandescent or halogen bulbs when shooting your photos. Use the fluorescent setting if you are using fluorescent bulbs. Tungsten light leaves an orange-ish-yellow-brown cast across the entire image as shown above. Fluorescent lights tend to leave a green-ish cast.
  • Even if you have set your camera’s white balance you may find that your image does still not have white whites or neutral grays. Some adjustment or "image editing" may still be necessary.
  • Try your software’s automatic correction options and see how things improve. Most of the time Auto Tone, Auto Contrast and Auto Color commands under the Image menu will do wonders. Try each of these commands one at a time or try all three until you see if you get your desired results.

    If auto corrections don't work, try the Eye Dropper tools in Photoshop's Levels dialog box. (Image menu > Adjustments > Levels) Click on the white eye dropper tool and then click on a what-should-be-white area of your photo to set the White Point. You will see the entire image color shift after you do this. The white eye dropper works best if you are shooting your book on a white background. If you are shooting on a gray or neutral colored background, choose the gray eye dropper tool and then click on a neutral area of your image.

If these tips don't do the trick, try to find your software’s options to correct color cast, brightness, saturation, etc. until the image most closely resembles the actual book. Or, enlist the help of a friend who can help. Color correction beyond the basics listed above can be a bit tricky but is a very important part of presenting or documenting your art.