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studies: dodge and burn | by littletinperson
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studies: dodge and burn

I'm a little old-fashioned in my approach to photography. Actually, I'm old-fashioned in my approach to writing and recording music, too, and in a very similar way. I love digital tools. The portability, flexibility, power and non-destructive nature of the editing process make photography, for me, a fantastic creative medium. (That non-destructive aspect is also a very powerful learning mechanism, but that is likely the subject of another study.) With all that power and flexibility comes the need for discipline, though, the need for very specific objectives when approaching an exposure, and, for me, the need for establishing rules that govern my processing methods, both in general and specific to the photograph i'm developing.


One rule, or philosophy, that i have applied pretty faithfully in all my creative work is to emulate analog processes and workflows as much as possible, not because i think it's better to do it this way, more because it's a better fit for the way I think and work and for the things I create. There are many, many amazing photographic artists pushing the limits of the medium with transformative digital approaches. And honestly, I love the work and the people creating those new spaces for us to explore and inhabit. But that's not my choice, at least for now. My choice is to be faithful to the analog approach, transported to digital media. That's why I do most of my editing in lightroom and silver efex. These tools feel very organic to me, and support me in a very non-intrusive way. For me, they are tools that are simple enough to stay out of my way, yet powerful enough to enable my creative process. In other words, they are tools that stay tools, for me. But i digress …


Today's study began its life on a terrace in Manarola, Italy, just after the sun had set. This presented the classic, tricky exposure challenge with a bright sky and a shadowy foreground. So, I exposed this image for the highlights, knowing that the shadows would retain some detail (in this case, a lot of detail.) Sure enough, the hills in the foreground were deep black in the raw image (at least 2 stops under-exposed), and the sky and sea were a little bright (maybe a half-stop over-exposed.) Getting this corrected would require a little dodging and burning in those two areas.


I dodged (using LR's adjustment tool) the hills to the left and right of the deep cleft that defines this beautiful village, leaving the houses and structures untouched. The roofs and flat surfaces picked up just enough sky light, and combined with the few incandescent lights, scattered through the foreground, the core of the village was at just the right exposure to produce the effect I wanted, that twilight time when the light of living shifts from the natural to the manufactured.


I burned the sky down to the horizon line, using LR's graduated filter with a very light touch of exposure reduction (maybe a tenth of a stop) combined with a slight increase in saturation and some small adjustments to contrast, highlights and shadows, just enough to enhance the definition in the clouds and bring out that touch of light on the leading edge of all the scattered clouds.


And, finally, I burned the sea (again with the adjustment tool), applying a very subtle reduction in exposure (not even a tenth of a stop) and the same approach to saturation, contrast, highlights and shadow adjustments to bring out more definition in the reflections and the texture of the surface near the shoreline.


And there you have it - a pretty simple study of dodging and burning in digital photography. Best of all, I kinda like the result.




p.s. For those of you following the continuing saga of nick, this photograph was the source for the sky in chapter 40. And charlotte hedman, with her simple question about where a person might find a sky like this, was the unknowing instigator behind this study. If you like this image, you can thank her by visiting her photostream at

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Taken on October 1, 2010