Tag Archives: scott kelby

Painting with light

One of the most powerful tools of processing a photo (be it in a traditional darkroom or a digital darkroom) is dodging and burning – the process of darkening or lightening parts of the photo. By doing this you are painting with light, you are controlling shadows and highlights and you can dramatically alter and enhance the expression of your art and control where your viewers eyes go when first viewing the photo. The human eyes are always attracted at first to large areas of light or darkness.

Ansel Adams was a master of photography and the darkroom and to see a perfect example of good old darkroom painting with light, have a look at how shadows and highlights are used in this classic Tetons and the Snake River shot to enhance the drama, expression and visual tension. My favourite contemporary landscape photographer is Peter Eastway, an Australia grand master of photography, and his portfolio is a textbook example of painting with light.

As you know I am not interested in a reality that doesn’t exist anyway, and I find myself more and more wanting to manipulate the look of my images to better create the drama, the tension and the expression I’m after. Only I struggle with the techniques in Photoshop and curse myself, my computer and my mouse! I am reading Scott Kelby’s books on Photoshop and photography and practicing but I still have a lot to learn. Unlike say RAWshooter, PTgui  and Lightroom I am still far from getting the results out of ‘painting with light’ in Photoshop that I really want but at least I am improving (ever so slightly, Rome wasn’t built in a day etc!)

Here’s a few recent attempts at painting with light and digital post processing:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sortedam Dossering HDR sunset
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This sunset from Copenhagen is a heavily post processed image with a lot more going on than just painting with light and it’s closer to digital art than photography. I merged two exposures of the same shot into a high dynamic range file in the new Photomatix 3.0 software. This brought out the detail in the buildings (shadows) and the clouds. The HDR software didn’t do wonders to the look of the water though so I decided to completely alter this using motion blur tool in Photoshop. Finally I added vignetting and ‘painting with light’ to the image in Photoshop. The sunset is still real though, it really did look like this! It’s mostly an experiment but I am fairly happy with the results.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Palm at Trinity Bay
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is a photo from Australia where I have only used ‘painting with light’ to darken the messy boring bits of the photo (the trees and bushes) and lighten the interesting parts – the combination of the palm tree, the water, beach and sky. I am going for the Peter Eastway effect here and I have to admit I am not totally happy with the results. It’s alright but not totally what I had in mind so I will keep practicing on this photo.

One thing that I find hard is to ‘paint with light’ using a mouse. It’s impossible to do nice curves and strokes using a mouse and I am seriously considering getting a Wacom Intuos3 tablet – anyone have good experiences with using a tablet?

I like painting with light and as I slowly get better at it I see how incredible and powerful a tool it is and it allows me to be even more creative and really work my photos into the exact expression I want. I am still a photographer full stop and not a graphic artist and shooting the photo in the field will always be the best part of the experience for me. But no camera can capture what I want to express so I need to be able to do the digital darkroom stuff to perfection to create fine art landscapes and cityscapes so I’m back to cursing myself, the computer and the mouse!