Adjusting Image Exposure in Food Photography - dummies

Adjusting Image Exposure in Food Photography

By Alison Parks-Whitfield

When shooting photos of food, some areas of a photo may need to be darkened or lightened. Use digital Dodge and Burn tools to fix these imperfections in Photoshop or another photo-editing program.

The terms dodging and burning hail from darkroom photography. Dodging refers to blocking the light to decrease the exposure in one area of a print. When a print shows an overall good exposure but perhaps one area is too dark, a print may need a bit of dodging, or lightening up, in that area.

Traditional dodging and burning tools

When using an enlarger — a type of projector used in darkrooms to project the image of a negative onto photo-sensitive paper to make a print — in a darkroom, the photographer or developer places a small dodging tool (looks kind of like a long, thin lollipop) briefly into the path of the light in a predetermined area during an exposure. Then, the photographer shakes the dodging tool slightly left and right so it doesn’t create a harsh, artificial-looking edge on the print. This dodging technique allows less light to fall on a photographic print just in that one area.

Burning is just the opposite. If a test print in a darkroom shows a good exposure overall but an area is too light, the photographer uses a burning tool. That burning tool generally looks something like a piece of paper with a small hole ripped in it.

The photographer brings in the burning tool at some point during the exposure, again shaking it left and right to keep a soft edge. The burning tool blocks out most of the light except for that one area that needs darkening with a bit of extra exposure time.

You can see the old dodging and burning tools in the following figure.

Traditional dodging and burning tools. [Credit: Focal length: 85mm, Shutter speed: 1/25 sec., Apert
Credit: Focal length: 85mm, Shutter speed: 1/25 sec., Aperture: f/2.5, ISO value: 200
Traditional dodging and burning tools.

Using Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop

Now, translate these dodging and burning concepts to pixels, and you get the idea of the Photoshop Dodge and Burn tools.

  • The Dodge tool functions to lighten the exposure in an area of a digital image. It allows a choice of many specifics, such as brush size and hardness, the range of tones (highlights, midtones, and shadows), and the exposure percentage.

    Always keep the exposure percentage at 50 percent or lower when burning or dodging with Photoshop. Doing so allows for a smaller, more gradual change to an area that you’re lightening or darkening.

  • The Burn tool darkens a targeted area of an image. This tool can be helpful when you have a highlight that’s a little too bright or a little too over the top and needs to be dropped down a notch. The choices are the same as the Dodge tool, as far as brush size and exposure.

    Target your burning actions to only the area that needs darkening. Make sure the darker pixels don’t bleed into an adjacent area of your image. For example, if you’re darkening an edge of a napkin next to a plate, make sure you don’t darken any pixels in the plate. If you zoom in to work in a very small area, you can avoid this problem.