Exercise 20: Improvement

Essentially this exercise focuses on the method of dodging and burning. After making a localised selection of an area, we are allowed to make any adjustments to make the subject stand out form its surroundings. During this process, we need to ensure that the image still looks realistic. We are allowed to use software of our choice. I have been using this technique for quite some time now. Before getting introduced to Lightroom, I had been entirely dependent of Photoshop for dodging and burning. For many advance adjustments, for sure I would still go back to Photoshop. However, in my experience Lightroom is quite equipped to handle this basic adjustment. In fact in most cases it does the adjustment so beautifully that we do not have to worry about the halos around the area of adjustment. At the same time, it also keeps the file size low.

I have chosen a street scene from India, to display the results of the above-mentioned processes. I also wanted to re-check Lightroom’s creditability in this matter. Hence, I have treated the images with Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4.

This image was taken in West Bengal, India. It portrays a typical tea stall found on every other street. I have been able to capture very relaxed mood. There is a funny story behind this photo. I speak more than 5 Indian languages, the fact these men were not aware off. To them, I looked liked an outsider hence, they started cracking jokes about the camera, and also about how silly was I to click the photos of a tea stall. I let them have fun till I got this relaxed photo, after that I spoke to them in their language and accent. They were very surprised and thrilled at the same time. I offered them to come and see the photo on the LCD screen of the camera, that really pleased them.

Ex 20-scene 2-1

1/40 sec @ f/2.8, ISO: 100, Focal Length, 21mm

Lightroom 3 Processing:

After bringing the image to Lightroom, I made a virtual copy of the image and cropped and straightened the image slightly. With the local adjustment brush, I burned (darkened) the background area. This process itself made quite a bit of a difference. I dodged (lightened) the main subjects; three men and the teapots to enhance the attention. I feel this has separated the subject from the background. At the same time, there is no harsh transition between the processing. Note: the file size is same as the original (11.36MB) even after the processing.

Ex 20-scene 2-2

Photoshop CS4 Processing:

I right clicked the original image in the Lightroom and selected the option Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS4. This opens the image in Photoshop, and after editing is finished it stacks the edited image beside the original fine in Lightroom 3. There also I have not looked at any other processing but dodging and burning tool. There are many methods to achieve the same results. I chose the methods depending on the processing requirement. For this image, instead of using the direct dodging and burning tool I have done the following.

  • Open the image in Photoshop
  • Add a new layer (layer 2)
  • Fill it with black
  • Reduce the opacity to 20 so that the bottom layer is visible
  • Add a layer mask
  • Select the brush with feather and reduce the weight
  • With black colour and layer mask selected, painted over the area which did not require the burning (darkening).
  • Clicked on the layer mask and selected the painted area
  • Clicked on the second layer
  • From the filters selected Gaussian blur
  • Reselected the layer mask and loaded the saved selection
  • From the Selection > Modify selection > Feather 5 pixel (normally this takes care of any harsh transition)
layers

Ex 20-scene 2-3

I feel there were many more steps involved in Photoshop to achieve the same effect. More over the results are quite similar. Note: the file size of the saved image is now 234.83 MB. This is way too much, compared to the original RAW file or the file processed with Lightroom 3.

Comparison:

Ex-20-sreenshot

Conclusion:

I have reasoned two points at the end of this exercise.

First one is quite straightforward, I would prefer doing such basic editing in LR 3 compared to Photoshop due to the obvious reasons explained above.

Dodging and burning the images has been an excepted method of processing, since the film photography days. Most of the great photographers like Ansel Adam, Michael Kenna, Steve McCurry and many more uses this technique freely. I am not sure how flexible is reportage photography towards such processing. To me, if the dodging and burning is not diverting the attention or changing the reality, then it should be accepted. I would surely continue using this method of processing for my images. Unless I have been specifically advised otherwise.

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