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Paul Gallagher dodge & burn - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Paul Gallagher Published 01/04/2006

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As the title suggests, the phrase dodging and burning originated in the darkroom. To lighten an area of the image you would "dodge" or prevent light from hitting the photographic paper on the easel or "burn" where you would mask selected areas of the paper from the light of the enlarger and deliberately allow other areas to receive light. I no longer have a darkroom, and use a scanner and Photoshop, but even in my introductory paragraph referring to darkroom methods, you see familiar Photoshop words such as "mask" and "selected" appearing.

In this article I will not endeavour to go into the in-depth complexities of what can be done in Photoshop and the vast array of tools that are at hand. Indeed there are many fantastically advanced ways of adjusting and editing images accurately, but it is worth bearing in mind that when all we had to hand was a darkroom, many of these tools where nonexistent, yet the greats, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, produced beautifully crafted images. I will begin with dodging and burning because this is one of the main ways of adjusting the appearance of an image during printing.

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The first step is to open the image you want to work on and decide the first area you think needs adjusting. In this feature it is an image of a storm clearing on a beach at the south coast of the Isle of Arran, in Scotland. As you can see from the scanned negative, the rocks on the beach hold a lot of detail but the sky is somewhat pale, however, it has a lot of potential (FIG1).

I start by selecting the sky using the Magic Wand, set to a tolerance of 25. Simply press the shift key with the Magic Wand selected and gradually select the sky area (FIG2). If you want to remove an area that has been selected by the Magic Wand then hold down the Alt key and click on that area.

It is worth zooming into the image when the selection looks complete to double-check there are no areas missed. When the sky is selected, I then click on the Channels tab (FIG3) and click on the "save selection as an alpha channel" (the second icon from the left). A small black and white channel icon appears which is then renamed "sharp". Then copy this channel by dragging it onto the new channel icon (the peeling page) and rename it "Blurred". After this go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and apply a blur of 3 pixels (FIG4).


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