Play 255 To Win

There was a time in my photography when nailing white in product shots was a PITA. I would always blast my background with light. In my mind, blowing it out was the same as making it white. Thank goodness those days are now behind me. But to be fair and in my defence, I learned most of my photography from research and practise, not from the wise counsel of a photo guru. When I finally understood how to get clean whites in my images, I almost felt silly for not figuring it out sooner.

So you setup your lights, meter the scene, stage your subject, and connect to a computer for tethered shooting. Then you take a shot and the white background is not where you think it should be. Your first instinct is to increase the output of the background lights but before you do so, I’ll encourage you to pay attention to the histogram on the computer. Pure white in RGB is 255 for each channel. Resist the temptation to go full commando on your background lights and make small adjustments till you get a reading of 255 across.

As simple as this is, it took me a while to adhere to it. But once I did, my product photos started looking like what I see in magazines. The photo above is a quick packshot of some products I grabbed from my washroom. After the stage is set for me to begin taking shots, I focus on getting a clean white from the background using the technique mentioned. Below is another shot with only the background lights on. Finding the right exposure for the key light is usually straight forward afterwards. So the next time you find yourself fighting with a white background, remember to play 255 if you want to win.