Stop Dodging: Five Alternatives to Bumping Local Exposure

Since the film days, photographers have used dodge and burn to infuse drama into their images. Unfortunately, local exposure adjustments don’t always stack well and can produce the opposite effect.

Why do we dodge to begin with? Especially in landscape and architectural photography, dodging has the effect of promoting the subject from its surroundings. Reckless dodging quickly makes the image unbelievable, but even in moderation, local exposure adjustments can produce conflicting effects. Bumping exposure:

  • Tends to visually desaturate colors.
  • Condenses the tonal details into a smaller dynamic range.
  • Creates visible halos in the thumbnail.

In the last vlog on light painting, we used dodging to draw attention to a subject. Although we mostly used exposure, there other ways to accomplish a similar effect without the same drawbacks.

Before light painting, don’t forget to identify the key players in the image: composition, shapes, and lighting. Here are 5 alternatives to dodging you can use to highlight — or downplay — subjects when light painting:

  1. White balance: Regions of strong neutral tones are especially great to showcase color temperature adjustments. The reverse is just as powerful: downplay distracting regions by cooling unimportant details.
  2. Saturation: Saturated colors tend to draw attention, so rather than bumping global saturation, it’s advantageous to brush it in selectively. Before adjusting a subject’s saturation, make sure it doesn’t clash with the overall color palette.
  3. Shadows: Bumping shadows brings out details without crushing the dynamic range or blowing highlights and whites. When you need to calm a distracting region, do the opposite.
  4. Contrast: Combined with moderate exposure, contrast tends to saturate colors and increase the dynamic spread between shadows and highlights.
  5. Whites: Bumping whites adds brilliance to a subject while preserving saturation.

What are your favorite ways to bring out a subject without dodging?

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