Gobi Desert, Mongolia, 2012. Click to enlarge.
I shot this image in the Gobi last week and used it to show a little dodge and burn to some of the photographers I was traveling with. Most of my images get a little dodge (lighten) and burn (darken), to push and pull the eye subtly through the image. If you know that the eye is pulled by lighter, brighter, sharper, more colorful, and that it is pushed by the inverse (darker, duller, less sharp), you can use that to give an image visual mass and depth. Having done it, with various levels of frustration, for years in the darkroom, I can tell you that the digital approach is much easier. Here’s the sequence:
The White Stupa, RAW file, no adjustments. Nikon D3s, 16mm. 1/13th @ f/11, ISO 200. 3 stop ND grad and Warming Polarizer. Tripod mounted.
The White Stupa, after global adjustments (Exposure +0.35, Blacks 5, Contrast +15, Clarity +27). No dodge or burn.
In Lightroom (LR3) Brush set to -0.62 Exposure, -46 Brightness, 37 Clarity to darken lines of river bed, line of background hills, darker features in cliffs. Clarity for texture, and greater pull on the eye. I use either my Wacom Cintiq 21 or smaller Intuos 4 for this work, because it allows me control over my lines and my flow. A mouse just won’t do a fraction of what a pen tablet, even a fairly small and basic one, will do. The red shows the strokes of the Adjustment Brush.
In Lightroom (LR3) Brush set to 0.33 Exposure, 22 Brightness, 37 Clarity, to lighten brighter sides of small hills and call out features of brighter bands in cliff wall. Begin working cloud. Brighter underneath and a little darker on top…
In Lightroom (LR3) Brush set to -0.33 Exposure, -12 Brightness, 25 Sharpness. Burning subtle details in clouds and cliffs to give depth and balance the dodging done in lighter areas.
In Lightroom (LR3) Brush set to 0.45 Exposure, 52 Brightness, 25 Sharpness. Dodge final areas to bring out dimension in hills and add final pop and local sharpness. Doing this with separate brushes in separate stages gives me more control.
Final image. When the changes are toggled on and off they are strongly noticeable, but when seen in sequence, less so. Dodge and burn should lead the eye, but remain subtle so you don’t destroy the logic of light on a scene. While it’s tempting to simply brighten something to pull the eye there, it’s usually more in keeping with the logic of light to do both a little dodging on one side and a little burning on the other. It’s a subtlety that prevents the reader of the image from feeling something’s not quite right. Where there is light, there is shadow, so be sure to give attention to both the push and pull of the process.
The visual push and pull of dodging and burning works for every kind of photography, from portraits, and food photography, to weddings, and photographs of kitten and rainbows. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you look into dodge and burn techniques. If beginning photographers spent more time learning this and less time chasing gimmicks and the latest style, their images would be more compelling, their art stronger. We released Piet van Den Eynde’s DODGE & BURN this week. Check it out on the Craft & Vision website. If you go to the post about this eBook you’ll find a discount code; it’s good for a few more days, ending July 22, 11:59 PST.