Tag Archives: Dodging and burning

Sunrise at East Deerfield Yard, October 18, 2013

Applying an Old Technique with Today’s Technology.

The other day I arrived at Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine East Deerfield Yard shortly after sunrise. Although not a wheel was turning, there was some nice light and I made a selection of images.

My challenge was in the great contrast between the ground and sky. With my Lumix LX3, I found that if I exposed for the track area, the dramatic sky was washed out (too light), and if I exposed for the sky the tracks area was nearly opaque.

Railway yard.
East Deerfield Yard, Massachusetts at Sunrise. Unmodified ‘in camera Jpg’. Lumix LX3 photo exposed using the ‘V’ (for Vivid) setting.

With black & white film, I would have compensated my exposure and film development to maximize the information on the negative, then dodged and burned critical areas on the easel in the dark room to produce a nicely balanced print. I’d done this thousands of times and had my system down to fine art.

I applied this same basic philosophy the other morning at East Deerfield. I made several exposures from different angles. In one of these I slightly overexposed the sky to retain some detail in the track area.

The in-camera Jpg from this still appears both too dark and too contrasty (from my perspective having witnessed the scene). Rather than be content with this inadequate photograph, I took a copy of RAW file that I exposed simultaneously (one the benefits of the LX3 is it allows both a Jpg and a RAW to be exposed at the same time) and imported it into Photoshop. (I always work from a copy and I NEVER manipulate or alter the original file).

Under the ‘Image’ menu, I selected ‘Adjustments’ and then ‘Curves’; I then adjusted the curve to produce a more balanced over all exposure. This is possible because the RAW file has more information (detail) in it than is visually apparent.

While this improved the image, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I selected the ‘Dodge and Burn tool’ (which appears in the tool bar as a angled gray lollipop). Using the ‘Dodge’ function, I very slightly and selectively lightened track areas and foliage that I felt appeared too dark.

Then I used the ‘Burn’ function to selectively adjust the sky areas. If I’ve done this successfully, the scene should appear very close to the way I saw it. Similar techniques can be used to make for surreal and unnatural spectacular landscapes. While I may do that later, that’s not my intent today.

East Deerfield, Massachusetts.
The same image as above, but from a modified RAW file using Photoshop to adjust contrast (both across the entire image and locally). Lumix LX3 photograph.

While modern tools, like those of the traditional darkroom, allow for improvement over in-camera images, the effort does take time. I estimate I spent 10-15 minutes adjusting this photograph.

Because this adds time to the work on the photograph, I don’t want to have to do this any more often than necessary. Most of my photographs are ready to go ‘in-camera’ (as it were).

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