In my previous post I mentioned that I try to replicate the work done in the traditional wet darkroom. Today I would like to introduce these techniques to you and show you their digital equivalent.
Dodging and burning
When it comes to good black and white printing, all darkroom printers rely on local adjustments. The most famous one is the so called dodge and burn technique. Parts of the image that needs to be lightened will be covered during exposure. This technique is called dodging. Larger cardboard pieces with holes in it will be used to darken areas by increasing the exposure time for this area. Many printers use their hands instead of a cardboard. Besides learning how to exactly use this technique, learning to know which areas require dodging or burning is even more important. We can do this by studying the "Principles of Design" and other conventions which come mainly from other art forms like painting. They are also valid for photographs.
Some very basic art Theory - employing Concepts of Design
Rules are there to be broken, but before we break them, we need to know what these rules are. Learning which areas of an image needs to be darken or lightened requires a detour to the principles of design. The most common idea is that contrasts attracts our eyes. A famous principle of design is called "figure to ground relationship". That means a dark figure on a bright background will stand out as a focal point in an image, same is true for a bright figure on a dark background. This of course incorporates the idea of contrast. In order to know which area needs to be dodged and burned we need to think about the concept of our work and determine the focal points. Sometimes focal points are obvious, like the human figure or the human eyes, sometimes architectural objects or structures are the most significant parts of the scene. Identify these areas and increase their visual weight by correctly lighten or darken them. Focal points work because of their attributes or their message. If these two things can be brought in context, the effectiveness of your work will increase dramatically. Make sure the dodging and burning is not overdone. Subtlety and care will be more important than magnitude.
Dodging and Burning in Lightroom
The best tool for small areas is the adjustment brush. Follow this link to a nice and comprehensive tutorial on how to use the adjustment brush. The most important attribute for our purpose are exposure and contrast. Sometimes we need both attributes in combination and sometimes one at a time is enough. You can use the "auto mask" feature if dodging and burning around objects with hard edges. Use a soft feathered brush when working in wider less defined areas. Think about painting with light and shadow. I often combine contrast and exposure as these attributes go hand in hand. Remember that contrast is one of the most important attributes when it comes focal points. I would like to mention that brighter parts of the image will tend to move forward in the frame while darker parts tend to recede. This effect does not interfere with the idea of aerial perspective, a phenomena I will cover later in this tutorial.
Darkroom printers also enhanced local contrast in a print by bleaching certain areas. W. Gene Smith was a master of this technique and if you look at his prints you can see who effectively he used it to make a focal point stand out.
Aerial perspective is another concept we need to be aware of. Distant objects will often be blurred and show less contrasts than objects closer to use. This can be used as depth clues to help the viewer perceive depth in the flat surface of a photograph. Other depth clues come from effective composition, but light and the way we manipulate light in analog or digital post-production is additionally important. Be aware of this when deciding what to do with an image. Split grade printing allows the darkroom printer to print different parts of the image at different filtration grades and therefore at different contrast levels. Using similar methods to dodging and burning the printer decides which part of an image will be printed at a certain contrast level.
To simulate this technique in Ligtroom we use a relatively new filter called radial filter. The filter work along an area form the center outwards or vice versa. We can alter almost every single tonal attribute along the filter axis. Use them in a way to underline your message. Julieanne Kost tells you exactly how to use the radial and graduated filter tool in this tutorial: Julieanne Kost - Lightroom CC Tutorial
Local contrast control can however also be used to tone down areas of too much contrast, either to recover blocked or blown areas or to reduce their visual weight.
One technique which I already mentioned earlier is split grade printing. This could be called the predecessor of modern HDR, but way less noticeable and more subtle. A single image is exposed at minimum of two exposures, one at grade 00 and one at grade 5 or maybe 4.5. Grade 00 is for the highlights and grade 5 for the shadows. Optimum exposure times are determined for each grade in a test print. Finally the finished pint will show a nice tonal distribution. During scanning we normally don´t have a problem to scan all tones of a negative (at least if there are tones, unexposed parts of the negative will be black regardless of the scanner), but during tone expansion, which is a natural process that normally happens in paper during exposure, we need to decide about the strength of this expansion. This is something that happens in Silverfast´s Negafix dialog and has been covered in part I of this series. To incorporate the idea of split grade printing, you could make two scans with different Negafix settings that will be combined into a single image in Photoshop. I could even imagine that it would be really helpful if Negafix settings for different paper grades would exist. It then would be possible to ideally replicate the analog workflow in my opinion. I decided that this technique is not required for this image. The tonal controls in Lightroom make up for the lack of split grade printing most of the times.
Edge darkening or Vignetting
Bright subjects at the border of the frame can sometimes distract from the focal points. Toning them done is also very effective and known as edge darkening or vignetting. It has been a long turn practice by many good printers to burn the edges of a print. Some do it in a subtle way, some make these changes more drastic. Lightroom´s Vignette option is great for adding a nice little vignette around your photograph to contain the viewers eye inside the frame. Once again I recommend Julieanne Kost´s video tutorial if you wan to learn how to use this feature. Another idea is to selectively use the graduated filter tool, if you want edge darkening at only one or two edge in the print. This is very effective for skies and larger areas.
Clean Up - Dust Removal
Before we get to the final print, we wan to make sure our print is as clean as it gets. Use the spot removal tool to clean up all the little dust spots we have captured during scanning and SRDx was not able to get rid of. It can be a tedious task, but it is well worth the effort in order to get a nice and clean print. Make sure you don´t use a hard edged brush and I prefer the "heal" option over the "clone" option at least for most of the areas we need to work on (JK Lightroom spot removal video).
We are almost done. All the edits are completed and we are ready to print this file. How we do this and what options we have, will be covered in the last part of this series. Hope you have enjoyed this. let me know if you have any questions, I will be more than happy to answer them.