Colorado Potato Beetle

I find that when I photograph a insect against a white background like a sheet of paper the photo will have a light grey background rather than a perfect white (R-100%, G-100%, B-100%). While the photo looks fine by itself when it is presented against a white background like that of this site or a photosite like flickr the light grey background of the photo can look quite dingy by comparison, as in the photograph above.

As you may have noticed I have recently tweaked several of my past insect photos to give them a truly white background. I thought I would share this quick and easy Lightroom tweak to get white backgrounds.

Step 1

Step 1

Take your original image and develop as normal. In this case I’ve added some sharpening, increased the vibrance, and modified the exposure to lighten up some of the shadows (This would be less important with a more diffuse light source).

Step 2

Step 2

Next check the little box in the top right of the “Histogram”. This will show blown out highlights or area that are completely white (R-100%, G-100%, B-100%) in red. We then want to slide the “Whites” bar to the right until the entire background of the photo is red.

Step 3

Step 3

We now have a background but the adjustment with the “Whites” bar has overexposed some of the lighter areas of the insect. To correct this we will make use of the “Tone Curve” which has no effect on these perfectly white areas.

wb step 4

With some downward adjustment of the “Highlights” and “Lights” bars we can correct the exposure of the insect to give us a correctly exposed insect and a perfectly white background.

Colorado Potato Beetle

Mouse over the above image to see the minimal changes in the exposure of the insect between the original photo and the final edit. In addition you will find below a slideshow of example photos using this technique.

<p><i>Forficula auricularia</i>, Forficulidae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
August 16, 2013</p>

Common Earwig

Forficula auricularia, Forficulidae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
August 16, 2013

<p><i>Euschistus conspersus</i>, Pentatomidae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
August 30, 2013</p>

Consperse Stink Bug

Euschistus conspersus, Pentatomidae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
August 30, 2013

<p><i>Leptinotarsa decemlineata</i>, Chrysomelidae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
August 30, 2013</p>

Colorado Potato Beetle

Leptinotarsa decemlineata, Chrysomelidae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
August 30, 2013

<p><i>Emmelina monodactyla</i>, Pterophoridae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
October 4, 2013</p>

Morning-glory Plume Moth

Emmelina monodactyla, Pterophoridae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
October 4, 2013

<p><i>Emmelina monodactyla</i>, Pterophoridae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
October 4, 2013</p>

Morning-glory Plume Moth

Emmelina monodactyla, Pterophoridae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
October 4, 2013

<p><i>Pholcus phalangioides</i>, Pholcidae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
November 27, 2013</p>

Female Long-bodied Cellar Spider

Pholcus phalangioides, Pholcidae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
November 27, 2013

<p><i>Pholcus phalangioides</i>, Pholcidae<br />
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
November 27, 2013</p>

Female Long-bodied Cellar Spider

Pholcus phalangioides, Pholcidae
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
November 27, 2013

<p><i>Harmonia axyridis</i>, Coccinellidae<br />
Cameron, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada<br />
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8<br />
December 14, 2013</p>

Multicolored Asian Ladybug

Harmonia axyridis, Coccinellidae
Cameron, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Nikon D5100, 105 mm f/2.8
December 14, 2013

  • Virginia Sorrells April 25, 2016, 3:51 pm

    Thanks for posting this. But how do we get from the red background to the perfectly white background?

    Reply
  • Virginia Sorrells April 25, 2016, 3:53 pm

    Ooops! Got it! Ignore my last email. And thanks again for this simple solution.

    Reply
  • Mike March 5, 2017, 4:28 pm

    thank you for this! do you have any advice when taking pictures of a white product?

    Reply
    • ajblake March 5, 2017, 5:20 pm

      That does sound tricky. Maybe using a brush to lower the exposure of the product after you get a white background?

      Reply

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