The 3 Lightroom Edits That Make My Food Photos Pop

3 edits I make to food photos in lightroom

As with photo organisation, the editing process is quite personal to each individual. For me, the edits I use vary, depending on what exactly the photo needs.

Having said that, there are three adjustments in the edit sidebar panel that I do typically make to every photo. Generally, I use these edit sidebar panel settings:

  1. Light: Exposure
  2. Light: Contrast
  3. Colour: Whitebalance

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

Using Adobe Lightroom CC for food photography

I love Lightroom because it makes it really easy to edit my food photos, whithout spending a whole lot of time on them. It’s like waving a magic wand: I can take a food photo from ‘nice enough’ to ‘OMG I gotta eat that’ with just a few adjustments.

That’s why I started this blog series on using Lightroom for food photography. You don’t need to be a ‘food photographer’ to use Lightroom. It simplifies the process of photo editing, so anyone can quickly & easily make their food photos pop.:

  • The restaurateur who wants to showcase their new menu item can use Lightroom to make that photo look even tastier, so everyone has to come down and try it
  • The blogger who wants their latest recipe to go viral can give their post a fighting chance with a share-worthy photo edited in Lightroom
  • The casual Instagrammer who wants to make everyone well jel of the amazing breakfast bowl you spent half an hour perfecting instead of doing your makeup this morning (just me?) can spend just a few moments in Lightroom perfecting the photo, too

My previous posts in the series cover the absolute basics.

First, get the Adobe CC photography package (that’s Photoshop & Lightroom for under a tenner) using my affiliate link here.

Then, import your photos or navigate to the image you’re working on, and crop & rotate until you’ve got the perfect composition, and come back to see the three magical edits I make to almost every food photo.

How I edit food photos in Lightroom

There’s a lot of edits and adjustments you can do in Lightroom. Various parts of the edit panel let you adjust aspects of the photo like lighting and colour. You can even slightly adjust things like the sharpness or the angle of an image. Skip down for an overview of every setting in the edit sidebar panel.

First, let’s back up.

How do you open the edit sidebar panel in Lightroom?

First, open the Edit panel in the right sidebar to access the controls for light, colour, effects, details, optics & geometry.

open the Edit panel in the right sidebar
Open the Edit panel in the right sidebar

The three Lightroom actions I use (almost) every time

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I generally adjust three key settings in the edit sidebar panel. The first two are in the ‘Light’ section.

Exposure & Contrast are in the Light section of the Edit panel
Exposure & Contrast are in the Light section of the Edit panel

Exposure

First up, Exposure.

When using manual camera settings, the exposure refers to the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor.

In Lightroom, its kinda the same – only you’re artificially adjusting the amount of light later.

The higher the exposure setting, the lighter the picture will appear – too much and the image will totally wash out.

The lower exposure, the darker the picture will appear. Again, set it too low and the image will be too dark to see much.

Very high exposure image
Set the exposure too high and the image will appear washed out
Image with very high exposure
Set the exposure too low and the image will appear very dark

Contrast

The contrast in an image refers to the difference in brightness between light and dark areas. Technically, it determines the number of shades in the image.

The higher the contrast, the more definition there is between light and dark areas in an image – too high and the picture will look exaggerated, too low and it will look flat and dull.

Image with very high contrast
High contrast gives lots of definition between light & dark areas, but can look exaggerated
Image with very low contrast
Low contrast gives soft definition between light & dark areas, and can look flat

How exposure & contrast work together

Exposure & contrast really need to work together. Here are three examples of slight adjustments to the exposure and the contrast settings, to give the picture a different mood or aesthetic:

Example of a light & airy image
A ‘light & airy’ image | Exposure: +0.45 | Contrast: -10
Example of a bright & vivid image
A ‘bright & vivid’ image | Exposure: +0.25 | Contrast: +10
Example of a dark & moody image
A ‘dark & moody’ image | Exposure: -0.10 | Contrast: +35

For the rest of this tutorial, I’m sticking with the middle example – Exposure at +0.25 and Contrast at +10. This gives the picture a natural, bright & vivid feel.

White Balance

White balance sits in the Colour section of the Edit panel.

White balance in the Colour section of the Edit panel
White balance in the Colour section of the Edit panel

White balance deals with the colour of the light in an image. Particularly when using artificial light sources, an unnatural colour can be cast on your photos. This can make your whole photo look slightly ‘off colour (often a bit bluey or orangey) in when it comes to processing the image. We talk about white balance, not colour balance, because this discolouration is usually most obvious in things that should look ‘white’ to the naked eye.

You can set white balance manually on your camera before shooting. Even if you do that, you will likely need to make slight white balance or colour adjustments in post-processing.

White balance Presets
Click the white balance dropdown for white balance pre-set options
Click the white balance dropdown for white balance pre-set options

Lightroom has a number of pre-set options for white balance:

As Shot

White balance set to 'As Shot'
White balance set to ‘As Shot’

Auto

White balance set to 'Auto'
White balance set to ‘Auto’

There are also white balance settings based on the lighting conditions when the photo was shot

Daylight

White balance set to 'Daylight'
White balance set to ‘Daylight’

Tungsten

White balance set to 'Tungsten'
White balance set to ‘Tungsten’

Cloudy

White balance set to 'Cloudy'
White balance set to ‘Cloudy’

Fluorescent

White balance set to 'Fluorescent'
White balance set to ‘Fluorescent’

Shade

White balance set to 'Shade'
White balance set to ‘Shade’

Flash

White balance set to 'Flash'
White balance set to ‘Flash’

Clearly, none of these pre-sets look quite right for this image.

Whitebalance Dropper
Use the dropper icon to set the white balance by selecting a part of the image that 'should' be pure white
Use the dropper icon to set the white balance by selecting a part of the image that ‘should’ be pure white

You can also set the white balance in the image by using the dropper. Use the dropper icon in the white balance section, then select a part of the image that ‘should’ be pure white.

In the example above, you can see I’ve selected a spot on the bottom of the glass in the top left of the image.

In the three examples below, I’ve set the white balance by selecting three different spots in the image. The bottom part of the glass on the top left; a grain of rice from the bown at the front; and a part of the white section of the cloth.

Glass

White balance set using the dropper to select the bottom part of the glass on the top left
White balance set using the dropper to select the bottom part of the glass on the top left

Rice

White balance set using the dropper to select a grain of rice from the bowl at the front
White balance set using the dropper to select a grain of rice from the bowl at the front

Cloth

White balance set using the dropper to select a part of the white section of the cloth
White balance set using the dropper to select a part of the white section of the cloth
The points in the image selected using the dropper icon to set the white balance
The points in the image selected using the dropper icon to set the white balance

Once I have a ‘base’ whitebalance (usually using either ‘as shot’ or the dropper), I adjust the temperature and tint sliders slightly to get the perfect colour balance.

In this example, I think the most attractive and realistic option is the one using the white balance dropper to select a white section of the cloth used as a prop.

The specific settings there are Temperature: 4950 and Tint +24.

For comparison, I’ll show you what the image looks like with the selected white balance setting (Temperature: 4950 and Tint +24), but using the other options for exposure/contrast:

The 'light & airy' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘light & airy’ image with white balance adjustment
The 'bright & vivid' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘bright & vivid’ image with white balance adjustment
The 'dark & moody' image with white balance adjustment
The ‘dark & moody’ image with white balance adjustment

The result after 3 quick adjustments:

After those three quick adjustments the final image looks much brighter and more appealing. The final settings are:

  • Exposure: +0.25
  • Contrast: +10
  • Temperature: 4950
  • Tint: +24
The original image before any edits
The original image before any edits
The final image with three adjustments
The final image with three adjustments

This isn’t to say that I only make three edits to each photo.

There are lots of other adjustments you can make in the Edit panel.

I do usually make some adjustment to other settings in the Light and Colour sections, as well as adjusting the sharpness and noise reduction in the Details section. The amount and type of adjustments though really varies depending on the quality of the photo I started out with, and on the final ‘look’ I’m aiming to create with the final image.

I do whatever it takes to get it looking picture-perfect. But these 3 edits are my go-to starting point when editing food photos in Lightroom and getting them well on their way to drool-worthy masterpieces.