Mon, 7 December 2009

Almost all of the tools in digital photo editing software mimic techniques that photographers use when manually printing photos in their darkroom. Dodging and burning are good examples. Dodging is used to make areas of a photo lighter. Burning is the opposite, it makes areas of the photo darker. These things were not invented by Adobe. In traditional photo printing, these effects are created by blocking the enlarger’s light from exposing the photographic paper. Blocking the light before reaching the normal exposure time makes the blocked area lighter. Blocking it after having reached the normal exposure time makes the non-blocked areas darker. To obscure the light, some people use a piece of cardboard that they attach to a thin metal wire and move in front of the photo during the exposure. Other people just use their hands to cover the light. I used to be pretty good at printing black and white photos and I always used my hands for dodging and burning my prints.

Another technique that’s frequently used is tuning the contrast of a black & white photo. It’s not the only way, but my favorite way of adjusting the contrast was using Ilford Multigrade paper. With Multigrade paper it’s possible to control the contrast in the print by using colored filters in the enlarger. The trick to this is that the paper contains different layers, each with the same basic sensitivity to blue light, but with a different sensitivity to green light. Layers with a higher sensitivity produce a more contrasted image than layers with a lower sensitivity, so by varying the ratio of blue light to green light you can influence the contrast of the photo. The greatest thing though with this kind of paper is that, if you’re really good at dodging and burning, you can even change the contrast in just one area of the photo by exposing the paper in two or more steps using different filters.

With software, image editing has gotten a lot easier. Almost any effect can be created in any area of a photo. It still takes some practice though and in my opinion the best photos are the ones that make only subtle use of these techniques. I’m hoping that with the release of LightBrush, many people who are just getting started with digital photography or who don’t want to spend a lot of money on software will now have access to some of the tools that can help to create great photos.


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