Do you ever take a photograph that you really like, but it leaves you with a sneaky feeling that your image could be better? Maybe the photograph of your cat’s fur is a little dark in places, or a corner is a little too overexposed?
You got so close to a great picture it’s frustrating. What can you do to improve your image?
Two Words to Enhance Your Cat Photos
Dodge and Burn.
Let me explain how you can use these simple techniques to instantly rescue, enhance and improve your cat photographs.
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 this help your digital images?
Let me start with a quick non-technical look at photography in the past to help you understand the two names and what they do
Before affordable digital cameras arrived on the market in the late 1990s, a photographer had two options:
- Photographs could be developed at a shop or by post.
- More skilled amateurs could develop their film in a dark room.
With no photo editing software, photographers had to manipulate their images to create effects or improve them within a photographer’s darkroom. The technique that lightened parts of an image was called ‘dodging‘ and darkening an image was called ‘burning‘.
Photo Editing Software Does This For Us?
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 photographer’s darkroom) and the burn is a stylised flame.
This image of cafe cat Betty shows the two tools in the left sidebar of Affinity Photo. (I do not cover the sponge tool in this post). 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 Two Tools?
If you open your own photo editing software and locate your dodge and burn tools, you will see that the familiar cursor turns into an adjustable circle. This circle has two options:
- It can be resized from very small dot to a circle over 4000 pixels wide.
- The strength or ‘pressure’ 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 tools in Photoshop look similar.
Give yourself permission to play, learn and fail!
Work on a duplicate copy of your photograph and push the tools to their limit. Burn your way across a photograph, dodge to the limits then laugh 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.
If your digital cat portrait looks good, apart from a stubborn shadow, or small area of overexposed fur, you can see if dodging or burning will help. Make a duplicate and play around with the two tools.
Here is an example of how gentle adjustment was make a difference to a photograph. You may not see much of a difference at first but the smallest shit to lighten a shadow draws attention across your photograph.
Work gently and use your keyboard to zoom in for close work:
- Ctrl/Cmd + (plus sign) zooms in and,
- Ctrl/Cmd – (minus) zooms out again.
Remember too that your changes are not permanent. You can use your photo editing software’s ‘undo’ options to step back from the decisions you make. Check under ‘Edit’ in your menu bar or use Ctrl/Cmd Z.
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 definitely want to ensure that your photos look good for a sponsored post for a cat toy, furniture or food product.
Checking your images after a photoshoot on your camera’s LCD screen, they seem good and you feel happy. But when reviewing the photographs on your computer or tablet you feel there are some distracting overbright areas in the best pictures. That shot of your cat enjoying the sponsor’s product is so close to perfect, what do you do?.
Here’s an example. This image of Miranda (below) uses the burn tool around the edges, and the dodge tool to highlight the treat packets. See how the packets are just a little bit brighter?
To reduce strong bright areas locate the burn tool (a stylised flame) and work in small increments to lower the bright highlights. Adjust the opacity of your tool, and the size of the brush if you don’t see any change but don’t rush.
- Your aim is to make adjustments that will not be noticed.
Family and Friends Portraits
Your cat portraits may be spontaneous and you might not think about camera settings until later unless you are arranging a formal photoshoot, but 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 using dodge or burn.
Remember that in a portrait, you aim to focus on sharply focused 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 Harvey’s photograph with subtle adjustments, including brightening the eye nearest the light source.
First, take a look at the image that needed adjustment.
Now take a look at the gentle use of light and how it transforms Harvey’s photograph.
The changes are understated but well placed and they transform the image. 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.
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 your image into something completely different. Check out this grunge interpretation of Phoebe from Photo Lab.
The original smartphone photograph was cute but overexposed (too light) so I played around with a few filters. I gave myself permission to play and with no expectations. So, I managed to create a really dramatic image without stress, and an overexposed photograph I could not rescue was transformed into a steampunk extravaganza.
The second photo I could not improve comes from 2014.
This was taken with a Samsung compact camera and I managed to capture a precious moment. This is the first time Harvey played with a catnip mouse in his forever home, with encouragement from his mentor young Miranda who you can see watching. The incident took place not long after Dash passed away and was a landmark in Harvey’s progress as a late adopted senior.
I have tried to sharpen it, lighten it but nothing works to improve my precious moment. So I added a soft focus frame and left the image alone.
Finally for Dodge and Burn Newbies
Dodge and burn skills are simple to learn and can with a dash of patience raise your photographs to another level. I recommend you explore your own photo editing tools and see where they take you. The results can be subtle, or brave and fearless so I hope you will try this useful way to enhance your photographs.
Let me know if it works too, leave a link to your photo in the comments.
Dodge and Burn Resources
- Dodge and Burn in PaintShop Pro – Corel Discovery Centre
- Dodge and Burn in Affinity Photo – Affinity Help (plus tutorials on YouTube)
- Dodge and Burn in Photoshop – PSD
- 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.