March 7th, 2017

For a while now, my friend has been blowing my mind with her photography. Her ability to use completely natural lighting to create dynamic images was off the charts. I couldn’t wrap my head around how she was able to perfectly light her subject, while every time I tried, I’d get multiple shadows and odd skin-tones. I had given up for awhile until speaking with one of our designers about the “Dodge and Burn” technique on portraits.

It was as if someone had turned on a lightbulb.

I went through some old photos and found some I had initially passed on editing because the lighting wasn’t right. My first attempt was what you’d expect: I overdid it. But even though the job was botched, it was very clear that I was on the right path. So I sat down and waded through the countless online tutorials about dodging and burning. The one consistent tip that each tutorial taught me in keeping photos realistic was to keep my adjustments subtle. Keeping this in mind, I attempted the technique again, and the results were night and day.

Original photo

Without dodge and burn

With dodge and burn

The technique of dodging and burning is a useful tool to know, but like all things, it is best done in moderation. Understanding natural lighting principles such as highlights, falloff, and shadows has helped me recognize where the boundaries are and help me create subtle, yet effective edits in my portrait photography.

I used to feel the need to mix natural lighting with strobes and was somewhat satisfied with my results. But now, I’m aware of the power behind dodging and burning and will continue to incorporate this technique in order to achieve the results I’m looking for.

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