How Cameras and Light LIE About Food


This video is sponsored by Skillshare, an
incredible website where you can learn about food photography or virtually anything else.
There’s more than 25,000 courses to choose from for less than $10 a month. Get two months
for free with my link in the description. Hey, let me show you a trick. Cooking show. Medical show. Cooking show. Medical show. Cooking show. Medical show. Lights, cameras and screens — three things
that have incredible influence over how you perceive food, and three things that absolutely
can lie to you. You think it doesn’t matter? Check this out.
Earlier this year, researchers at Kansas and Tennessee State universities published a study
where they deliberately undercooked a bunch of ground turkey patties. They cut the patties
open, and took pictures of them under different kinds of lightbulbs. And then they showed
those pictures to a bunch of people and said, “Hey, would you eat that?” When looking at the patties under newer kinds
of light bulbs, like soft-white LED and halogen bulbs, people were more like to say, “Yeah,
I’d eat that” — in reference to dangerously undercooked poultry. Look, I’m not trying to say that you’re gonna
die of food poisoning if you don’t watch this video. EXPERTS SAY THIS WILL DEFINITELY KILL YOU.
WHAT IS IT? FILM AT 11. But at the very least, learning a bit of the
color theory behind all of this can help you take better Instagrams of your dinner, and
it can help you spot when food marketers are trying to manipulate you. It can also help you understand the humbling
extent to which our own senses are simply untrustworthy. Let’s go back to my opening example. That’s
a plate of ham, the rosy-red color of which has been set with sodium nitrite. I am flipping
a switch back and fourth that is changing the color temperature. Warm light, cool light,
warm light, cool light. “The color of your light 100-percent affects
the color of anything you’re taking a picture of.” That’s Christina Peters, a professional food
photographer in Los Angeles who’s been doing this stuff for a quarter century. “So, color temperature is the Kelvin scale.
So that’s where the color will be blue, neutral-ish, to warm. You’re gonna be looking a little
golden, a little warm — or a little bit blue, on the cool side” I think it’s important that we understand
that when we talk about color temperature, we’re not talking about literal thermal temperature.
When you think about incandescence — something that gets so hot that it emits electromagnetic
radiation within our visual spectrum, aka color — blue things are actually hotter
than red or yellow things. But that’s the opposite of how we tend to
think about this particular spectrum in our everyday lives. Blue is “cool” to us. Yellows,
reds, oranges — they’re the color of fire. They’re “warm.” Yellow and blue are actually
“complimentary colors,” meaning they’re on directly opposites sides of the color wheel.
When you mix them together, they cancel each other out and you get some kind of gray. That’s
probably why we think about these colors as being on opposite ends of a single spectrum. So even though it’s not literally temperature,
we still measure color along this blue to yellow spectrum with a thermal scale — Kelvin.
Now look what happens when I take this photo of one of my steaks and make the temperature
“warmer,” i.e. more yellow. Now watch me make it cooler, i.e. more blue. It looks like Binging with Babish, right?
Babish, unlike me, is an experienced filmmaker, and his videos have a really cinematic look.
One of the ways he achieves that is by making everything kinda blue. Bluish, for various
reasons, is right now the chosen color scheme among big-budget Hollywood filmmakers. When
I was in college, everything was green — think “The Matrix.” Now, everything is blue — think
“Game of Thrones.” Anyway, back to food. Restaurants tend to
favor “warm” light. A graduate student at Iowa State University named Amy Elizabeth
Ciani actually did an experiment on this. She had some people sit down for a meal. Without
telling them what she was doing, she gradually changed the color temperature around the diners,
and at various points she asked them how they were feeling. People felt measurably more
comfortable under the warm lights. Christina Peters says food photographers have
known this forever. In general, warm light makes people feel better, and it makes food
look better. Remember? Food show, hospital show, warm light, cool light. “I always warm up my food images. I always
warm up my people images, as well. Because it’s more pleasing to the skin to have a warmer
tone than a blue tone with any person.” Now, in addition to color temperature, there’s
another color spectrum that we tend to think about: tint. If color temperature is hopping
from blue to yellow across opposites sides of the color wheel… “Tint is going from magenta to green.” Peters actually ran into a tint problem one
time when she was shooting for a high-end grocery store — shooting the meat department,
specifically. This is not that grocery store, but it’s a similar one. “If you kinda look at one type of light and
look over at the meat department, your eyes take a second to adjust to it, and it looked
very magenta. So I was like, oh my gosh, they’re filtering that. So I got my color meter, and
I put it up against the lights that were inside the meat department and they were massively
magenta.” They were trying to make their meat look really
red, because they know that’s what us consumers expect of beef in particular. They’re also
trying to compensate for the fact that cut raw beef actually turns brown as it oxidizes. The color of light has a particularly big
impact on how we perceive steak. On the website Chowhound, there’s a great thread where some
restaurant servers are complaining about a common problem. They take a perfectly pink
steak to a diner on an outdoor patio, and the diner insists that their steak is overdone. Why? Because the sky is blue, and therefore
natural sunlight tends to be cool. Here, watch, I’m gonna cook a steak, cut it up, and there
it is under the warm lights of my kitchen. Now Lauren is gonna carry it out into the
living room. I’m having to adjust for brightness, but I’m not touching color. Now we’re in the
living room, nothing but natural light from the windows and … look at that. It doesn’t
look as rare, does it? The meat industry knows this. Check out this
lighting guide created by food scientists at Kansas State and my alma mater Penn State.
This is aimed at retailers: grocery stores, butchers. That chart actually shows how different
meats look more or less perfectly pink depending on color temperature. Restaurants know this, too. As you can see
on Twitter, I am not the only person to observe that steakhouses tend to be cave-like — few
windows near the dining area. A prime example of this (get it, prime?) would be one of America’s
biggest steakhouse chain: Ruth’s Chris. I sent an email to them asking if they indeed
keep out natural sunlight in an effort to cast a nice warm artificial glow on their
steaks, thus making them look nice and pink. “Hi Adam, Thanks for reaching out – this
is quite interesting! Unfortunately, Ruth’s Chris is unable to provide a response at this
time.” Can neither confirm nor deny. But I’ll give
you further evidence in the form of the exception that proves the rule. One of America’s oldest
steakhouses, Peter Luger in New York, is bathed in natural light — huge windows all around
the dining area. And as a result, the steaks tend to look kinda weird, at least during
lunchtime. You can see the folks from Vox’s Eater struggling with this phenomenon in a
video that they made about Peter Luger. I suspect they intentionally ordered their steaks
unusually rare, and they clearly did some color grading to this footage to make that
the steaks look pink, despite the sunlight. How do I know for sure? Because they forgot
to do it to this one shot. See when I skip from here to here? Whoops! Now, one of the reasons you might not have
noticed this phenomenon until now is that good-quality, well-operated cameras do have
a way of compensating for differences in the color of light. It’s called white balance. Here, watch, Lauren is gonna carry the plate
of ham from the warm lights inside the house to the natural light in the living room and
then out onto the front walkway. Looks super blue. Now, watch what happens when I adjust
my camera to a white balance calibrated specifically for sunlight. It fixes the the problem. Basically,
white balance is changing your camera’s color sensitivity with a goal of making, say, a
white thing look white in any light. Most cameras have an auto-white balance function,
but they don’t always get it right, so if you can control that manually, you might want
to try playing with that. Our human perceptual system actually adjusts
for the color of light, too, when we look at things in real life. “Our eyeballs are constantly color correcting
every second our eyes are open. I mean, our eyes are amazing, and that’s what makes this
so challenging, because we don’t actually see light the way the camera is seeing the
light.” I can’t tell you the number of times I have
been shooting food in this kitchen, and I’ll look at the monitor, and then I’ll look at
the food in real life, and then I’ll look at the monitor and look at the food in real
life, and they’re just not the same. Like, I cooked this steak, I ate this steak, this
steak was perfectly medium rare, and it doesn’t look like that in the camera. I theorized
at the time this might have been due to the cool natural light coming into my my kitchen
from the windows. But Christina Peters says it could have been all kinds of things. “And especially when you’re photographing
something like a cut steak that probably has moisture on the surface, even as you’re looking
at the steak and staring at it, if you were to change your angle just by a few degrees,
you’ll notice reflections coming in, or it gets darker.” You can read about all this stuff on Peters’
excellent foodphotographyblog.com When she’s shooting for clients, Peters says
she has to do all kinds of crazy things that are way over my head: back-lighting, three-point
lighting, gelling the lens. She uses decades of experience and technical know-how to make
her shots look color-accurate, or not! “I’m very inaccurate a lot of the time. Because
I’m trying to make the food look appealing. And so, there are times when the steak might
actually be overdone and then I can just kick extra light in there, lighten it up a little
in the center, and it looks like it’s medium.” It’s such a hard thing for us to accept, because
we are so used to trusting our senses. Seeing is believing, but it shouldn’t be, especially
when you’re looking at a photo or a video. Here, let me give you one more example: dynamic
range. It’s really hard for cameras to accurately render color on the extremes of brightness.
Extreme light things, called “highlights,” tend to get rounded up to white, and extremely
dark things, called “shadows,” tend to get rounded down to black. This is one reason
why everyone’s food photos on Instagram and Twitter tend to look burned. Like, that sandwich
looks kinda burned, and I’m almost certain that it wasn’t. “A very inexpensive camera doesn’t have a
very large dynamic range. A very high-end digital back will have a very large dynamic
range, so it can ‘see’ things — more detail in darks.” Your phone camera is a cheap camera, for example.
But most phones these days now have an HDR shooting mode: high dynamic range. It basically
takes multiple exposures in rapid succession at various exposure levels and then composites
them together. It’s a lie. Everything is a lie. I hope at the very least, this video has made
you a little bit more of a savvy, less credulous consumer of food media – and indeed all
media. If you don’t believe that cameras are lying to you — get one out and start shooting
a bunch of food with it. You will develop an intuitive understanding of how the screens
in our lives are profoundly warping our perception of reality. That is certainly what I have
learned making videos in here for you. Though if you want to learn a little faster,
might I suggest Skillshare? Skillshare has tons of amazing photography and videography
courses. Check out Tabitha Park’s course on Adobe Lightroom, which is a great program
for doing color grading and other quick edits to your photos. If you wonder why some people’s
Instagrams look way better than yours, this is one reason why. “I never share images that I haven’t edited,
and Lightroom is king.” Then you might then want to graduate up to
Adobe Camera Raw, and Elizabeth Weinberg has a great Skillshare course about how to use
just that to get those cinematic colors and other looks. These courses aren’t just video
tutorials; Skillshare courses give you homework, and a community where you can try out what
you’re learning and get feedback on it. And it’s not just photography. There’s tons
of courses about business, about technology, almost anything you could want to learn about
to broaden your skillset and maybe make a career change. Because you watch my channel, you can get
two months of Skillshare Premium for free. Just follow my sign-up link in the description.
Thanks so much to Skillshare for sponsoring this video, and remember — don’t believe
your eyes. “Oh, the pavement’s hot.” “Can I eat it now?” “Yeah, go ahead.” “Ah, it’s all stuck together.”

100 Replies to “How Cameras and Light LIE About Food”

  1. Q: Wait, yellow and blue make gray? I thought they make green!
    Q: Wait, yellow and blue are complementary colors? I thought it was blue and orange!
    A: The answer to both of these questions is the same. This video is about light/screens, not pigment. Light is additive, pigment is subtractive. The rules are different. In subtractive color mixing (like blending paints), blue and yellow make green. In additive color mixing (like blending colors on an LCD screen), blending blue and yellow will get you something on the grayscale, depending (I think) on brightness and shade. That's literally what I show you at 2:43 — I made a blue matte and a yellow matte, set their opacity to 50 percent, and then overlaid them. The result is gray. (Or, grayish, because the footage of me shining through is throwing it off, and also because I don't think the shades of yellow and blue I picked were perfectly complementary.) Blue and yellow are considered complementary in the additive RGB color model, while blue and orange are considered complementary in the subtractive CMY model (or RYB). You could argue that I should have explained this distinction in the video, and you could be right. When you make videos like this, you have to make judgment calls about which levels of nuance deserve the run time. If you don't make those calls, the video will end up 10 hours long.

    Q: Did you edit your footage wrong at 1:40? It looks like the light is going cooler at 5500ºK and warmer at 2700ºK. Isn't that backwards?!
    A: Nope, I didn't edit the footage wrong. You're seeing what really happened. Here's what I THINK is going on, and I would appreciate if someone more knowledgeable could weigh in. As I mentioned in the video, incandescent (i.e. really hot) objects actually emit blue light at higher temperatures than yellow or orange light. So, there is a context in which people use "color temperature" to describe actual thermal temperature. This is referred to as "black body radiation" — the colors emitted by a theoretical, idealized black object at certain very high temperatures, given in degrees Kelvin. That color temperature scale is, essentially, the inverse of the color temperature scale often used by filmmakers and lighting designers. In the world of normal human experience, blue is the color of ice (or the moon) and yellow/orange is the color of fire (or the sun), so we use Kelvin to signify that subjective experience of color we all have. This cheap Chinese light I'm using is, I'm guessing, labeled with actual color temperature (i.e. black body radiation), not color temperature in the art school sense of the term. But I'm honestly not sure!

    Q: Are you sure that movies these days tend to be blue? Didn't you just pick two examples that were snow scenes?
    A: In retrospect, those were bad examples, for that very reason. But I am hardly the first person to observe that blue punctuated with orange is a very popular color scheme in Hollywood these days. It's literally the first tip offered by this Adobe guide for "cinematic" color grading: https://blogs.adobe.com/creativecloud/cinematic-color-grading-in-adobe-photoshop-pt-1/ This is hardly my area of expertise, but one theory for the origin of this trend I've read is that digital effects are easier to render in this scheme, for reasons I didn't understand when I read that article.

    Q: Are you sure that movies in the early 2000s were green? Didn't The Matrix use green for the specific purpose of creating a distinct environment for the matrix as opposed to the real world, which was more blue?
    A: Yes, that's absolutely why The Matrix did that, but I think that movie was so huge and influential that a lot of filmmakers then imitated that green color scheme to make things look high-tech. Where I remember seeing it most was in the music videos of the time: https://youtu.be/A48VUvB6kWE [EDIT] Oh yeah, and Fight Club. Fight Club is super green.

    Q: Are you sure this whole "steak looks overdone in natural light thing" is really a thing?
    A: Here's a comment from BlizKrieg that I previously had pinned here: "I'm a server in a restaraunt and I have this problem all the damn time. I work at a Racing and Card Club in FLORIDA. A very sunny place with very large windows to look at the grehounds racing outside. Now in the kitchen we can see how our prime rib is cooked perfectly rare to med rare. But then we take it into the dining room with so much natural light and say it's way overcooked. I always knew it was the lighting, but then the customers looked at me like I was stupid/wrong."

    Q: Is natural light always "cool"?
    A: No. This is one of those layers of nuance I decided to leave out. But certainly the color of sunlight is affected by atmospheric conditions and by time of day. In dusty air or at dawn/dusk, for example, sunlight can be warmer. That's one reason why photographers and filmmakers love to shoot around sunrise and sunset — they call it "golden hour."

  2. It’s tough juggling life through orbs that continuously adjust in my eye sockets to light that continually changes… then throw in filters that show reality, just not the reality I prefer so I have to adjust the filters to my liking, which may not reflect everyone’s liking.

    Seems there’s some philosophy in there ….somewhere.

  3. I was so disappointed when I finally saw the Alps because they just didn't look as good as the pictures I've seen which was annoying because I was looking at the ALPS and I didn't care enough

  4. Food photography… or cinematography. Don't get me started. I've been a gaffer for about 40 years, and you know I have stories to tell… like how angostura bitters make holiday hams look moist and pink, even under hot studio lights… or how white vinegar looks better as a glass of water than pure, well, water! Glycerin for droplets of water, Crisco for vanilla ice cream or even Liquid Smoke for coffee. All tricks to fool the eye.

    This is a good primer on the use of color in food photography and a pretty good overview of color temperature. I guess I use one other illustration that seems to get the idea across. Simply think of a blacksmith shop or a metal foundry. A guy takes a cold, black iron rod and sticks it in a furnace. A few moments later, it's glowing a dull red. As it gets hotter, the red becomes brighter, then orange. The guy adds some air to the furnace and as it gets hotter, the rod actually becomes yellow, then – if you've got a hot enough furnace, white-hot. Now, imagining the trend in color change, since you started black, then red, orange, yellow and then white, what would come next? Look on the color wheel and it would be blue hot! So, blue is hotter than red… at least in reality, not as our mindset has it.

    I've long used colored gels to adjust the white balance on my camera. The old trick was to use pale blue to shift the color toward red, but that really wasn't getting the right look. So, I added 1/4 green gel and suddenly had a much better look. I used a white card, sure, but by adding the colors I didn't want, the camera corrected toward the opposite colors and shifted the camera to a less blue, less green look, or more amber. In any instance, I can add varying colors to adjust the camera whichever way I want, without needing (or having) a video engineer to manually make the changes.

    Also, I always remind people that light essentially has three variable parameters. Intensity – how light or how dark, color – that's obvious since we've just been discussing it, and texture. The texture is important not only because of the nature of hard versus soft light, but also direction. For instance, light glancing off a subject like a backlight or edge light (kicker), will photograph at a higher intensity than the same light used frontally. We used to use the factor of about 2 f stops more intensity on a backlight versus a front like. This means if I have a light meter (incident type, not spot meter) and hold it measuring the face of a subject let's say I get an f stop of 2.8 with the film stock or ISO I'm using. A light from the rear reading f 2.8 will actually photography brighter by 2 stops or f 5.6. A lot of that is confusing to the beginner, but the principles hold up when they become more experienced.

    Finally, an interesting note about food photography. Here's a question. How is a tomato like a woman's breast? No joke intended, but the answer is that in a closeup, they both look best backlit. The reason is that the sun (for instance) comes through the translucent skin of the tomato and gives a kind of red glow coming from within. The same with the breast… the reddish glow of the blood glowing just beneath the skin looks more warm and alive. To tell you the truth, I apply that technique to just about any food I shoot, and on several occasions, on a nude person. Try it with a perfectly medium rare steak and see if it doesn't work there, too.

    Hey, great videos. How about one on dry aging beef? That's how I made some of the best steaks I ever had.

    Keep up the great work!

  5. Minor nitpick: the blue color of that flame isn't from incandescence, it's from electrons changing configuration during the reaction. A 6000K flame would easily melt steel; a butane torch clearly cannot.

  6. Photos of the beach always seem to be represented vastly different than what reality shows. More blue ass water, whiter sand, a warming glow in the air. Some people certainly know how to make things incredibly appealing through a computer screen. Not to mention, warm lighting I find especially appealing in contrast to the cold lighting I associate with work, school, hospitals, etc.

  7. It's a lie, everything is a lie.

    Know why? Our eyes and brains are lying to us, constantly. We're picking out sources of information and data in our vision and throwing a lot of it away! Colors, data, it's all a lie.

  8. That explains why there is a trend back in the day where a restaurant doesn't have any light and you eat at darkness

  9. Maybe salmonella should be an illeagal substance in USA like it is in Finland where you can eat raw food without getting a horrible disease.

  10. Seeing is believing. Seeing a picture isn't "seeing" in this case. As you talked about, your eyes adjust for exposure and white balance automatically. So you can trust them. You can't believe the photos, because they are captured with a camera, not your eyes. And cameras aren't as good at automatic (human automatic) adjustments

  11. I worked in a restaurant, and the dining room had warm lighting. Made most of the food and people look better. The major disadvantage was well done food was often sent back because people thought it was still a bit pink. One was sent back 5 times, I cooked and pressed every bit of juice and color out of that brown charred wonderful cut of steak and double checked the waiter knew to explain to the customer about the lighting and it still was still sent back to me and all I had left was magic, with the waiter watching me, after I replated all of the remade sides yet again I put the steak down and waved my hands over the plate and said "now, NOW! it's Perfect!, Muhahaha! hurry before the magic fades!" It wasn't sent back. I am not sure if the customer was finally happy, the customer gave up or the waiter explained that it was probably not wise to send the steak back to the cook, he didn't seem sane.

  12. Some of the best color work I've seen done was on the last few seasons of the original cast of Top Gear. (Clarkson, Hammond and May)

  13. But it is actually temperature. The reason that color is given in Kelvin is because it is representative of blackbody radiation. Take a blackbody and heat it to 6,000K and it will radiate light at a color temperature of 6,000K.

    https://www.electrical4u.com/black-body-radiation/

  14. Personally, I've begun to see things like photos and videos less as an imprint of a time and place, and more as simple data representation. Sure, a digital photo looks like something we'd see with our eyes. However, technically speaking, it's from a device taking a ton of measurements of light on a sensor, then processing that to make it recognizable. So, I don't think of phone HDR as a lie, but as using more data to make an image that looks more like what we might see. Same with something like the first black hole image. It wasn't made like most photos. It didn't use a single sensor picking up visible light. However, it was taking real life data to make a visual representation of a black hole, something similar to what a person might see if they could get close enough.

  15. Color temp is not the only factor. You have to take into account the CRI in your light source. Cheaper bulbs usually have low CRI.

  16. Huge tip that can help you solve all these problems. If your camera allows it and you want the most control later SHOOT IN RAW!!! Everything you are doing in your camera is just the camera's built in post processing, it's not any different than playing with the sliders in your image editing. The difference is that with raw you can apply those filters before saving it how you want, so you can shoot it and not worry about white balance until you want to use the photo or video for something, then you just adjust the levels in post.

  17. Went to a market that was held in open air, and some vendors din't used a tent some had green, white or blue tents, but the ones that used red or orange tent, their fruits looked more ripe, therefore more people were in line to buy from them, so if you want to sell something watch your light

  18. Anytime I take a photo of food to put on Facebook i use the edit function to make it a warmer colour temperature, and add some contrast

  19. Sorry but all of this has to be pretty obvious to anyone, right? Did someone really not know blue color makes meat look gross, and warmer light makes it look appetizing? Don't mean to offend, just expected more insight than what's already intuitive.

  20. This is why I always bring a flashlight with me when I am grilling during daylight. Everything looks cooked untill you get it inside.

  21. No joke, I live in ga and that grocery store example looked really familiar. I 100% work there. X) It's real far from macon, so maybe it's the same chain and setup but a different store.

  22. LED's don't follow the same behaviors as black body radiation. Only narrow bands of our three tristimulus wavelengths (RGB) need be produced by the LED to satisfy the eye and the freq's we don't see can be ignored… slightly like audio upper partials are scrubbed in a music mp3. This may account for some efficiency gain, i imagine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *