You’ve probably seen ads the last few days for the 5DayDeal — they’ve been popping up on Facebook and Instagram like crazy. The organizers of this deal create an incredible package of education and tools, and they do it every year or so. I’ve never bought it before, but this time I’m finally in, and I’m already learning loads from the first class I’ve watched.
Nick Page: Mastering Dodging and Burning
The first course that caught my eye is from Nick Page. He’s an energetic and genuine teacher who I’ve taught with in the past. His landscape work is marvelous and it’s finished masterfully. As he says in the intro to the course, the one thing all the great photographers through the ages have had in common is dodging and burning.
The Dodgers and the who now?
Dodging and burning are the techniques photographers have always used to guide the viewer’s eye through a composition. Dodging is selective brightening and burning is selective darkening. Why not just call it “brightening and darkening,” you ask?
When developing prints in the darkroom, the paper itself has photo-sensitive particles on it. The paper starts out plain white, but then it’s exposed to light shining through a negative. After fixing the image in place with chemicals, you get a picture. The paper is white, but anywhere light shines it gets darker.
Thus, if you wanted to make a part of your image brighter, you’d let less light shine on that portion. To reduce the amount of light, you’d cut out a card roughly the same size as the area you want brighter and tape it to a wire wand; it often looked like a circle on a stick. While the light is shining on the negative, you’d wave this wand around the area you want brighter, casting a shadow in that spot. You had to keep the wand moving — you had to keep dodging it in and out of the light so it wouldn’t make a definite shadow. That’s why brightening an area is called dodging.
To make an area of the photo darker, you’d cut a shape out of a card, but then put the whole card over the rest of the paper. Light only shined on the area you wanted darker. Since the light was shining on this area longer than the rest of the paper, it would be darker in the photo. You’d use the light to burn that area darker, or you’d burn the light a little longer on that area. That’s why darkening an area is called burning.
Nick Page blew my mind
I’ve been burning and dodging my photos for a long time. Brighter and more colorful areas in a picture draw the viewer’s eye and dodging and burning allow you to take control and actively guide your viewer through the photo. The thing Nick explained that knocked my socks off was that you can use a tinted brush with color in it to dodge and burn more naturally and much more effectively.
He showed me how to add color to the brush and then alter its saturation so add a gentle highlight to one side of a tree or mountain. I couldn’t help myself — I stopped the video and opened a photo to start experimenting right away. I’m nowhere near finished with this photo, but I had a lot of fun diving in to play with my new skills.
I’ve still got several more videos in Nick’s class to finish watching, and his is just one of about twenty-five courses that came in the bundle. Learning new skills is just plain fun and invigorating. Nick was demonstrating how to dodge in Photoshop, but I knew I could get similar results in Lightroom. Learning and adapting and compromising and personalizing are what makes photography so rewarding.