Introduction: Create a Perfectly White Background and Wet Effects

Picture of Create a Perfectly White Background and Wet Effects

I haven't ever had as much luck growing tomatoes as I have this year, and I'm pretty sure it's the result of double digging, adding amendments, watering regularly, and getting the dang plants in the ground at the right time.  You can see more of my garden here.  Now I have my first ripe tomato of the season and need to share!

Produce looks better against a white background than a black background in my opinion.  White looks fresh and clean, and fortunately, most produce shows up well against white.  It also doesn't hurt to shine it up a bit.

To create the white background:
I did pretty much the exact opposite as what I did in my Instructable for creating a perfectly black background.  I placed a piece of white poster board in full, harsh sunlight so that it was uniformly bright which meant angling it towards the sun against a step ladder.  Then I held (or had my significant-other/upside-down-beer-glass hold) the tomato in the shade.  The shade is nice and soft but still pretty bright.  However, the poster board absolutely glows in comparison.  The goal is to get the background uniformly brighter than the subject.  You can easily get more creative with lighting and produce some better shots, but this is INCREDIBLY easy to do and requires only one light source - the sun.

To create the wet effect/shine:
I used olive oil.  I've tried photographing shine/wet using water, and it really doesn't work well.  Water evaporates very quickly, and it doesn't have the same "hold" as oil does.  I first washed the tomato (picked fresh from the vine today!) and rubbed it down with olive oil, and a few of the shots are just with that shine alone.  However, I wanted it to look wet, so I pipetted some extra oil around the top and let it drip as it pleased.

To add context:
I played with a variety of hand positions.  When I held the tomato in the palm of my hand, the tomato looked bigger.  When my significant other held it in the palm of his hand, it looked smaller - he was nice enough to muddy up his hands for a "fresh out of the garden, Farmer Brown" look.  I also played with how my fingers were arranged, and I also propped it on an upside-down beer glass just in case the absence of hands made it a little more appealing.  Minor details start to REALLY matter when the shot is minimal.  Finally, when I had the shots I liked, I took a bite to see if the "fresh bite" look helped, but it didn't.  All I could after that point was continue eating.

End Note:
This process is not limited to photographing produce.  It can be used for a variety of other subjects.

Bon appetit and happy photographing!


eddevine (author)2014-10-28

Love your work

SophiesFoodieFiles (author)2014-10-19

Great tips here! thanks!

alcurb (author)2014-05-20

Thank you for your 'ible. I definitely plan to use your technique. I added it to my new collection.

I suggest to add "behind the scenes" picture showing you and the whole setup as you are about to snap the photo. A picture's worth 1k words.

eddevine (author)2014-01-26

Very nicely done

danmc91 (author)2012-02-11

Very nice. I really like the pics and the technique too. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

micraman (author)2011-11-02

Tasty! Nice ideas!

snotty (author)2011-07-22

Nice picture :)

There are a few pro photography tricks for making water droplets.
The most common method I know is to use glycerin, sometimes they mix it with water. Glycerin based fake sweat hurts when you glob it in your eye though (so does smoke machine fluid) so be careful. Another one is to coat the object with something that repels water so water beads up nicely, maybe something like a thin layer of vaseline or some scotchguard spray would work. Not that you'd want to eat scotchguard later. Food photography is dirty business sometimes.

A quick googling brought up these The usual method is to use glycerin or a mix of that and water

saxmaster765 (author)2011-07-18

I basically did the same thing with a sheet a few months ago.. It was bright, but overcast, so there were no pictures. Also, I never even thought of using olive oil. Thanks for the idea.

bajablue (author)2011-07-08

Congratulations on a very deserving WIN!!!

Creativeman (author)2011-05-23

Great stuff as usual, you really have a talent...curious about the tomatos, though. Really? This early? I started in Feb. this year and still have a few weeks to go. Maybe you are onto something really big. Your temps haven't been that hot have they? Maybe it's a specific location...thanks for sharing your photo tips!

AngryRedhead (author)Creativeman2011-05-23


The tomato in the photograph is a Phoenix tomato which is apparently a good producer, and all 4 of the plants have lots of tomatoes on the vine.  I have 3 other tomatoes that are nearly ready to pick.  I also have 2 tomatoes on my Black Krim which is an heirloom, and it's still setting blooms.  My Mortgage Lifter and Black Cherry have blooms but no fruit.  The winters here are pretty short (roughly December to February).  The average last day of frost is early to mid-March, and this year I pulled all my plants out of the garage in early March.  I got the Phoenix tomatoes in late February in 2-3" peat pots and plugged them deep into 1 gallon nursery pots.  I think they went in the ground late March, and generally, it's a race to get summer vegetables in the ground as soon as possible before it gets scorching hot and the plants stop producing blooms.  It's a bit unusual that I have tomatoes this early, but these plants also have some comfy digs.  As far as weather goes, temperatures have been generally good for blooms since March.  Tomatoes tend to set blooms when the highs are in the 70s-80s and the lows are in the 50s-60s.  We've been in the 90s quite frequently already, but there's been quite a bit of fluctuation which is the only reason why I think they're still going strong.  I think this might be the year when tomatoes finally make sense to me.

Chirpoff (author)AngryRedhead2011-07-07

We grew some tomatoes out there, too! They got pretty big, and we used them in a wonderful soup! Then we moved, heh. :) We had a fun time growing them, along with some other vegetables!

piperjon (author)2011-05-26

Very nice indeed, in color, balance, and composition. The wet look adds that sumptuous quality to it! And as a bonus, you had a head start on the salad that it could have become, woudn't even have to wash off the olive oil. Woohoo! Most excellent! - Pj

AngryRedhead (author)piperjon2011-06-25

Thanks!  I actually did eat it straight from the shoot.  Didn't even add salt!

pie popper (author)2011-05-30

so, I've been wanting clean, white backgrounds for selling earrings and such at , now I found how to do it! The only problem I should have is finding sun. D: Here in the north west, it's very shy. ;)

AngryRedhead (author)pie popper2011-06-25

The big thing is to make sure the background is brighter than the subject, and you can manipulate that in various ways by adding light to the background or shading the subject.  Hope it helps!

cloudifornia (author)2011-06-24

Excellent information. I need all the photography help I can get. 8-/ Thanks!

Let me know what your results are like!  I want to make sure I explained things well for replication.  :)

PKM (author)2011-05-25

Wow- I never knew oil was used to replace water like that. The more you know!

Other food photography cheats you might find eye-opening: that's not milk in breakfast cereal adverts, it's PVA glue (milk actually looks yellowish in photos), and that delicious syrup being poured over waffles is more likely to be engine oil.  Add to that the hand-glued sesame seeds on burger buns and the steam rising from microwaved wet cotton wool and the meal you actually see in photos starts to seem distinctly unappetizing!

Crank2112all (author)PKM2011-05-25

I've read that any product used in advertisements presented as food must be edible, though not necessarily the food product it is supposed to represent. Like in the "got milk?" adds, the "milk mustache" is actually heavy cream.

PKM (author)Crank2112all2011-05-26

Looks like we're both right

So for food advertisements they do have to stick with the actual product being advertised (though there are always tricks there- like cutting a wedge out of the back of a burger and widening it out to make it look bigger), but other food photographers are welcome to use all the motor oil, glue and shoe polish they want.

AngryRedhead (author)PKM2011-05-25

Ya, but my cheat was still edible...  and tasty!

rocketsurgery (author)2011-05-23

Wow... so good!

Yay!  Thank you!

Ninzerbean (author)2011-05-23

Beautiful, I would never have known that was oil vs water. I think i love the close up one the most, where its green top is the subject.

AngryRedhead (author)Ninzerbean2011-05-23

Thanks!  I know some people are opposed to faking food shots, but the oil really makes a difference and helps a lot in the shot.  It also made the tomato tastier!  :-P

tinker234 (author)2011-05-22

nice hey could i use a green screen to get the same effect

AngryRedhead (author)tinker2342011-05-22

Not really because the green is going to reflect back onto the subject and create a halo when the background is switched digitally.  Green screens have to be lit differently than the subject, and doing it poorly shows.  There are a few tutorials online for doing a green screen, but it's pretty involved.  If you're doing a single still life photograph with a background swap, you should do it the old fashioned way in GIMP or Photoshop by using the select tool, wand, etc.  Wish I could help more!

tinker234 (author)AngryRedhead2011-05-22

thanks just a thought for my biger projects in my workshop

AngryRedhead (author)tinker2342011-05-22

Try doing something on a small scale because it's easier than big scale.  That way you can keep the expense down and see if it's really worth the effort and even bigger expense.

ChrysN (author)2011-05-22

Cool tips. What about shaky hands, doesn't the hand holding the tomato get tired from holding the tomato out like that. I find when I hold something to photograph it moves a lot making blurry photos.

AngryRedhead (author)ChrysN2011-05-22

My shutter speed was never slower than 1/125 secs which is plenty fast for this.  If you're getting a lot of blur in your photos because of shaky hands, like the whole photo feels like it's moving, then chances are you're using a shutter speed/exposure time slower than 1/60 secs.  I can sometimes get below 1/50 secs without blur and without using a tripod if I shove my elbows into my sides and hold my breath while taking the shot, but it's risky.  To get a faster exposure time, you can fiddle with the f-stop (or the mode you're shooting in such as portrait vs. landscape) or the ISO (going from 100 to 400).  However, most of these shots were f-8 or f-9 with an ISO of 100 (yay for automatic landscape mode), and I still managed to get a fast shutter speed.  That's because of how bright the sun is against that white poster board, and you'll also notice that there's a bit more lighting on the back of the tomato which is a result of the poster board, not the absence of shade.  There's A LOT of light in these photos which makes it incredibly easy to do.

I'd recommend testing this out for yourself in a variety of modes and looking at the EXIF (right click on the file on your hard drive and go to Properties->Details) to help figure out what happened where.  It's weird tricky stuff to read about, and I didn't start understanding it until I started trying some of the stuff I've seen online and in other tutorials.  It really does help to do it and then learn why it happened in my experience.

I hope that sorta helps.

flyingpuppy (author)AngryRedhead2011-05-22

Fantastic info, Red.

ChrysN (author)AngryRedhead2011-05-22


sunshiine (author)2011-05-22

Thanks for sharing!

AngryRedhead (author)sunshiine2011-05-22

Hope it helps!

sunshiine (author)AngryRedhead2011-05-22

I have no doubt, thanks!

lemonie (author)2011-05-22

Quality pictures, very nice.


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