How Cameras and Light LIE About Food

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.
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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 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 thoughts on “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: 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: [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. 2:40 "b-but my art teacher said that yellow + blue= green"
    exactly, it was an art teacher and not a physics teacher and those paints are not pure blue and yellow

  3. My science teacher: the 7 colors of ligh get refracted to make a rainbow. The primary colors are R G B
    My art teacher: Primary colors are R B Y and you can pretty much make any other color from them.
    My science teacher: 7 colors make white light
    Me in art class: So iF i miX aLL sEVeN cOloRs I cAn mAkE wHiTe

  4. I’ve been told to wash white rice or toast them. Could you do a video on rice, because usually I wash them but I’m not sure which is better to do.

  5. I think it's fun to think of light as Flavor. Would you like some Strawberry light? Or some Boysenberry light? I'll take some Gravy light.

  6. It's a thermal scale because it's based on the colour that a sun of that temperature would be glowing (technically a black body, but our sun is a good approximation).

  7. What're your thoughts on using monochromatic LEDs to replicate the broad spectrum of natural lighting in [food] photography?


  8. 2:10 Whoa there big feller!! Sit down…oh yeah, you are. Sorry you are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over your head here! This is the long story short.

    Color temperature IS absolutely referring to an actual thermal temperature in degrees Kelvin. Zero on the Kelvin scale is absolute zero which is the total absence of heat. Zero degrees Celsius, the freezing point of water is on the Kelvin scale is 273.15K and room temperature is 293.15K. The color temperature of a light source is determined by the temperature of a theoretical "black-body radiator" which emits (radiates) light dependent on its temperature in degrees Kelvin. Think of a block of iron, at a certain temperature it will begin to glow, a dull red, red, bright reddish orange, orange yellow as the temperature is increased. This then is the "color temperature" which is the thermal temperature in degrees Kelvin.

    There is a Chromatically Diagram which looks like a rounded triangle with RED being on the right vertex, GREEN at the rounded top and finally BLUE which is at the left vertex and they all blend together with white in the centre – RGB. This is based on the human eye's sensitivity to color and how our brain processes color as color is NOT a physical thing, it exists in our mind and this Chromatically Diagram is called a "Color Space". Superimposed on a Chromatically Diagram is a curve arcing from the Red vertex through orange, yellow then white on up to blue, this is the Black Body Locus (curve). Dotted on this curve are the color temperatures in degrees Kelvin of the light as we see it.

    Incandescent light bulbs have a tungsten filament which usually has a color temperature of which is also its thermal temperature at 2800K, any hotter than that the life is shortened and there will be a point went the tungsten will vaporize. Incandescent light is a FULL spectrum light source which is weighted towards the infrared and it sits RIGHT ON the black body locus. However other light sources which derives its light not by an absolute temperature but how our eyes see it! These DO NOT sit on the black body locus but near it either above the line or below it which means two 4500K fluorescent lamps can look different to our eyes, one being "cooler" (because we think of blue as cool) with a bluish hue and one having a yellowish hue or warmer. So there is another measurement for a light source color and that is CRI, Color Rendering Index with 100 being perfect and anything less than 90 fuhgeddaboudit.

    White LEDs are just two colors combined together, BLUE from the LED and Yellow phosphor which absorbs the BLUE LED light and emits Yellow and some other colors light. The two of them together looks white. Unless you have RGB LEDs in your lighting its just for general video work and IS NOT for color matching and don't forget the color space too! Where on the Chromatically Diagram do these RGB LEDs find themselves? They would make their own triangle in the center of the Chromatically Diagram and that is their color space. This means any color outside of their color space cannot be reproduced!! I won't even get into printers CYMK which is inks, Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black. Mix yellow and Magenta you get red mix Cyan and Yellow you get Green and finally Magenta and Cyan you get Blue. Way too much to go into here Adam!

    So if you want to see something in natural light go outside on a overcast day…that is Daylight 5200K. Why overcast? It diffuses the light and prevents bluish shadows.

    I didn't even get to your topic of food light sources. I can tell you this though, plant grow pink lights makes raw beef look gorgeous!!

    By the way, I make light sources otherwise known as neon signs, its glass blowing. I've been doing this since Carter was president on three different continents. I like your channel, my channel is empty as maybe when I retire I'll fill it with all things neon. In the meantime my Instagram is Vantaggio_neon if you're interested! Although I don't have time to keep it up as much as I would like.

  9. 2:10 We are in fact talking about the color a black body literally looks like (the frequency it mainly radiates at) when at said temperature..

  10. When dealing with timeframe and females, never use "-century" as a yardstick, even when you're trying to compliment her experience. I can feel her cringe and binge eat ice-cream immediately. ("Im oooold!!!")

  11. I think I started consciously adjusting for lighting differences my eyes couldn't perceive since I was a kid. When I would come in from recess on a bright, sunny day, the school would be tinted green, and I had already noticed the sunlight was way bluer than the indoor lights. So whenever I had to judge the color of something outside vs inside I've always asked myself what difference it would make. The steak doneness is a perfect example, but a big one I've noticed is light colored clothing. Indoors, your light red shirt might really pop, but outdoors it suddenly becomes a softer, dark pink color.

  12. Just keep exploring interesting food, science, art things with the well thought out script and delivery. easy mode to the bank

  13. For anyone here wondering if they should manual white balance, my recommendation is to just take your pictures in RAW format (NEF for Nikon) and then adjust to your heart's content without any repercussions in a photo editing program like Photoshop or even Nikon/Canon's own free software. I generally set my in-camera WB to Auto with a slight warm tinge, just to see roughly what my pictures might look like when I actually look at them on the big screen.

  14. In my kitchen I always cook under cool florescent lighting which would make my food look pretty nasty and overcooked and I always thought it was my cooking till recently when I was brought some leftover spaghetti from my kitchen where you could really tell it was leftovers to my room where the lighting is more warm and it made the sauce look practically fresh. Opened my mind up.

  15. As a videographer, this helps out a ton because I'm a lazy college student and can't bother to research this on my own… even though I should.

  16. Beautiful video Mr. Ragusea (feels out of place for a food channel tbh)…of course I knew most of this stuff, but I think you made this video to help understand your subscribers who were complaining that you were overcooking or under cooking meat. Frankly, this doesn't bother me, because from where I am (India btw), we aren't into this medium, rare etc thing you guys got going…😉

    Regarding films, I love those technicolor ones for some odd reason…😊

  17. lighting has alot to do with how the brain thinks things are. like the visual blue and black or gold and white dress illusion

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