How To Make The Whites In Your Photos Actually Look WHITE

How To Make The Whites In Your Photos Actually Look White

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of shooting on white surfaces.  I love that they are clean, I love that they are simple, I love that they are timeless, and I really love how they make the food stand out in photos.  (And for anyone interested, most of the time that is a $5 piece of foam core that I replace once or twice a month due to stains/spills.)

But while my background doesn’t change colors (minus said spills), the lighting in my loft is constantly changing colors due to clouds in the sky or different times of day.  I’ll confess — it drives me crazy from time to time.  But there is one little trick in Photoshop I use that has saved my photos on many a cloudy day.

It’s they eyedropper tool in the Levels menu.  Here’s how I use it, with an extra little tweak…

How To Adjust Whites

1. Begin by opening your image.  I shot this one backlit on a white background which was genuinely white.  But the lighting that day wasn’t the greatest, so as you can see, the bottom of the image is just slightly dark.  And I wanted it white.  :)

For years, I used to adjust the brightness to correct this, or I would adjust the highlight slider within levels.  But neither of those seemed to give me as much control as I wanted.  Then I discovered the eyedropper tool.

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2. To find it, open your “Levels” window, either by clicking on the little bar graph icon at the top, or by going up to the top toolbar and clicking Image > Adjustments > Levels.

Also be sure that the Background (original) image is highlighted in the Layers menu, since this is the layer we will be editing.

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3. In the Levels menu, click on the little white eyedropper (it’s the bottom one of the three).

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4. Then hover over your image and click whichever part you think should be pure white.  I had shot this photo intending for the entire background to be pure white, so I clicked on the bottom right corner.  (But the bottom left corner would also have worked.)

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5. Then immediately, it should turn white!!!  Feel free to click around on a few other nearby spots (you might try a few that are darker, and a few that are lighter) until the image looks properly lit as you would like.  Sometimes that might mean clicking on a white bowl in a dark photo, or the whites of someone’s teeth.  But this image is super white in general, so it wasn’t too hard to click on a place that worked.

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6. However, I usually find that clicking on the image isn’t totally enough.  I almost always want my image just a teesy bit lighter to make it a 100% white.  So to do that, I go back up to the Levels menu…

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7. (Here’s a closeup) and slide the highlight slider down 1-3 notches until the image looks properly white.  (For this one, I slide it from 255 down to 253.)  Picky, picky, I know.

How To Adjust Whites 2

8. And then that’s it!!  Look at that pretty white image.  You can’t even see the bottom corners anymore against the white background of this post, which is what I wanted.  Easy peasy.

How To Adjust Whites 3

 

9. And then after that, I would move onto this one-click step that I use on almost every image to make the photo “pop”.  Here’s the tutorial if you’re interested in the next step.  Enjoy!

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11 comments on “How To Make The Whites In Your Photos Actually Look WHITE”

  1. I just discovered your website… awesome! I am loving your photography tips! I just tried out this tip, it did make the “white areas” a true white, but it also washed out the food in the photo? I am wondering if I did something wrong or if my original photo’s white balance was just way off. Any tips?

  2. Thanks for posting this, I’ve been using it to get whites ‘white’ when shooting on foam core and bink it works like a charm.  Cheers….

  3. That was great and such a simple but effective solution!
    It was driving me crazy, trying to get the whites REALLY white but it’s totally solved that.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Thank you very much. I have some old photos with not so white background, this post helps me a lot.

  5. Ali,

    I just want to thank you for sharing this shortcut to help with printing white backgrounds. I’ve had trouble for so long printing the digital images of my wife’s artwork from white paper and canvas and this helped so much. So, Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Craig

    • You’re very welcome, Craig, we’re happy you found this helpful! :)

  6. I have followed your steps, but for me it doesn’t work at all.
    The picture becomes way too light and the half of the food is washed out too. There are also still grey-ish sections that should be white.

    Is there anything I am doing wrong here? Because I followed the steps exactly as you said.

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