Do you ever take a photograph that you really like, but it leaves you feeling that it could be just a bit better? Maybe the photograph is a bit dark in places, or a corner is a little too bright? You got so close to a great picture. What do you do?
Let me explain how you can dodge and burn your way to perfect cat pics. OK, this works with any pet or human photo, but this is a cat blog and I have the perfect models nearby so enjoy the feline focus!
What Are Dodge and Burn?
Dodge and what? It sounds like your cat’s crazy antics at 3 a.m. doesn’t it. How will that help your digital image?
Let me start with a lightning-fast and non-technical look into the past to help you understand the names and what they do
Before popular and affordable digital cameras arrived on the market in the late 1990s, an amateur photographer had two options, you took photos to be developed at a shop (or sent them away) or keen amateur might set up a darkroom to develop film at home.
With no Affinity Photo or Photoshop, photographers had to manipulate the photographs they wanted by hand to change within the darkroom. Lightening parts of an image was called ‘dodging‘ and darkening an image was called ‘burning‘.
Photo Editing Software Does This?
Yes. Most photo editing applications have this as a standard tool. The dodge looks like a magnifying glass (referring to the enlarger used in a dark room) and the burn is a stylised flame.
This image of Betty with the two tools shown in the left sidebar of Affinity Photo. (I do not cover the sponge tool). Your tools will be in a similar place but if you are in any doubt, check your manual or an online pdf for instructions.
How Do You Use the Tools?
If you open your own photo software and locate your dodge and burn tools, you will see that the familiar cursor turns into an adjustable circle. This circle does two things:
- It can be resized from very small dot to a circle over 4000 pixels wide.
- The strength of the stroke can be regulated from soft to strong.
The power of the two tools lies in their ability to adjust an image in subtle ways. A light touch is recommended as you build your skills and confidence.
The dodge and burn Photoshop tools look similar.
Give yourself permission to play, learn and fail!
You can work on a copy of a photograph and push the tools to their limit. Burn your way across a photograph, dodge to the limits then laugh out loud at the extreme results you create when you push the boundaries of each tool.
When Would I use Dodge and Burn?
There are three great opportunities for practising and using the two tools for cat lovers and cat bloggers.
If your digital image looks good, apart from stubborn shadows, or small areas of over light fur you hope you can adjust, make a duplicate and then try to lighten the shadows with the dodge tool.
Work gently and use your keyboard to zoom in for close work:
- Ctrl/Cmd + plus in and
- Ctrl/Cmd – minus zooms you out again.
Remember too that you can undo or step back on the decisions you make. Check under ‘Edit’ in the menu bar.
TIP: When you lighten very dark shadows that contain little detail, you end up with grayish shadows. Darkening very light areas that are completely washed out doesn’t make your image look very good, either. You will end up with white patches.Photoshop Elements for Dummies
Cat Product Photos
You want to make sure your photos look good for a sponsored post but, don’t you know it, there are a couple of small overbright touches in your favourite picture that shows your cat enjoying its new toy.
To reduce the strong areas locate the burn tool (a stylised flame) and work carefully to reduce the strength of the bright highlight. Adjust the opacity of the tool a little if you don’t see any change.
The image of Miranda (below) used the burn tool around the edges, and the dodge tool to highlight the cat treats we received from Santa Paws. See how they stand out?
Family and Friends Portraits
Your cat and human portraits may be spontaneous and you don’t think about camera settings until later. As long as you aim to work with good light or the best you can get it will not be hard to adjust shadows or highlights.
In a portrait, you work hard to focus on sharp eyes. If you succeed with good eye definition your viewers will forgive you almost everything.
This sample shot of Harvey before and after shows how designer Glogirly transformed my beginner’s photograph with gentle adjustments, including brightening the eye nearest the light source.
First, take a look at the image I needed help with.
Now take a look at the gentle use of light and how it transforms Harvey’s photograph. The changes are subtle but well placed and they make a world of difference. Practice and experience make a difference so don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out first try.
Sometimes Your Photo Can’t Be Rescued
No matter how hard you try, there are times when nothing will work. When this happens you just have to swallow hard, keep calm, and carry on.
I try other ideas sometimes.
If I try to adjust a photograph and it doesn’t work, I either keep the picture in my ‘favourites’ folder (see the second photo below) or I try running it through a filter. Filters can transform the image into something completely different. Check out this grunge interpretation of Phoebe from Photo Lab.
An overexposed photograph I could not rescue was transformed into a steampunk ‘rad’ masterpiece.
This second photo from 2014, was taken with a compact and grabbed to capture a precious moment. This is the first time Harvey played with a catnip mouse. It was not long after Dash died and it was a landmark in his progress as a late adopted senior.
I have tried to sharpen it, lighten it but nothing works to improve my precious moment so blurry it remains and close to my heart.
Will you try this interesting way to enhance your photographs?
I see brighter black cats, and more focused pictures in your future, am I right?
Darkroom – A darkroom is used to process photographic film, to make prints and to carry out other associated tasks. It is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of the light-sensitive photographic materials, including film and photographic paper. Various equipment is used in the darkroom, including an enlarger, baths containing chemicals, and running water. – Wikipedia
This post has tips on sharper fur, you might find helpful.
iOS and Android the best filter apps for 2020.