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Burning Desire.

How an image should be processed is subjective to the overall effect you are seeking to achieve. Your idea of what makes a good photograph, will often differ from the ideas others may have upon what makes or breaks a particular image. The important thing is to rely on your judgement, while being open to ideas and critique, so that you are always striving for self improvement and constantly learning with your photography.

Subscribing to any notion, that the 'quick fix' Auto Level or Auto Contrast post processing options, may address any abnormalities making the most of the captured digital data in your image, is all too often detrimental, to what can physically be achieved with a little more thought given to the quality of light and the tonal aspects within the photographic image. Quite often these blanket processing options will appear to flatten areas in an image as tonal contrasts are changed, stretched and ironed out by software logarithm.

The tonal aspects of an image (the mapping of "the intensities in Saturation and Hue" of all the colours) plays a fundamental part in the Composition of an image, simply because our eyes are naturally drawn to the intensity of light. Similarly (at the other extreme), a block of dark colour surrounded by a lighter area, may become an unwanted focal point at the side of a picture, drawing the eyes away from the main subject or theme within an image.

Again, (as it is worth a mention at this point) there is another 'quick fix' that is often over used, namely the Vignette tool; where the tonal values at the borders of the image may be intensified or subdued, feathering out the effect in its 'blanket cover' towards the centre of the photograph. That is not to say that a vignette should be avoided, but that it should be used to enhance the image, rather than to address any unwanted distraction that may or may not exist (depending upon the audience's taste).

So how can we identify or decide upon, the less obvious tonal areas that we may want to adjust in an image, towards any burning ambition for accolades?

One of the quickest methods I know for "seeing" the tonal map of an image; is to observe the image literally with half closed eyes, narrowing the eye lids until, the only light entering your eyes is that which is bouncing off or emanating from the image. In doing this, you should be able to then observe the 'intensities in Saturation and Hue' (tones) as blocks of colour (without the finer details). So all those folk in the Exhibition Galleries with squinting expressions, are pulling faces for good reason.

Viewing an image in this manner, will help to determine the various planes of depth (distance) tonally, and much in the same way as Perspective and aspects in Depth of Field convey distance, Dodging and Burning areas may assist in adding more visual impact to your photograph, propelling objects forward or further away as desired. Effectively controlling the viewer's eyes without their realisation.

In the first image below, a gentle Vignette was applied to a Duplicate Layer allowing the top right hand corner of the vignette effect to be removed with a feathered Eraser to help graduate distances.


In the second image, a little localised Burning of the brighter areas in the background to the left hand side was applied, and similarly, with a smaller brush size, an additional light Burning was applied to the left hand 'edges' of the Catkins to correspond to the reflected light within the image.

In the third image, the same principle of utilising the tonal aspect to convey more distance has been applied but in a different manner. Using three Layers, the Exposure levels were altered to deepen the foreground and middle ground areas, again utilising a feathered Erasing brush to graduate and soften the effect in changes; Before a final and faint localised Burning was applied, to address an imbalance in a small area of the sky between the branches on the left hand side.

© Andy D Kemp All rights reserved 2013

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