Archive for September, 2013

Ansel Adams and Photoshop

Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”.  I’ve always loved that quote, especially in the digital age.  There have always been two elements to film photography:  recording the image and developing the photo.   Adams is the most widely known American photographer because he was a master at both. After scouting his location and waiting for the right conditions to “take” the photograph, he would spend days manipulating a negative to “make” the photograph (all the while taking detailed notes so the print could be precisely duplicated).  He used two tools at his disposal, dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) perhaps better than anyone.

Dodge and Burn are darkroom methods used to either increase or decrease exposure in a print.  With them you can lighten or darken specific areas to improve tonal quality and contrast or to highlight a certain area to make it a focal point.  These tried and true methods were incorporated in the original version of Photoshop in 1990 and remain in the current toolbars of both CS and Elements (and every other editing program out there).  The Dodge tool is represented by a lollipop-type icon and the Burn tool uses a closed hand as its icon.  Unlike other enhancements in Photoshop which manipulate the entire image, these two tools allow precision changes.  If you have never used them, I strongly urge you to give them a try.  There are more settings than some of the easier tools, but don’t let that throw you.  After you bring in an image, make a duplicate layer to work on.  Both tools allow you to select a brush size, the amount of exposure change (start out with a low number) and the affected range (highlights, midtones or shadows).  Experiment with all settings to see how they work. You’ll soon see their value.

Adams did not live to see digital photography or Photoshop, but I think he would have embraced them. While not an excuse to be a lazy photographer (more about that next time), Photoshop’s tools are a mean to an end. That end, of course, is making a better photograph.

The face in the first photo is overexposed, see how the dodge tool improved it.

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