Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Art of Burning and Dodging

I started my photography career in a beginner's photography class that was of course black and white with roll film, steel canisters and a wet dark room. Loading the film from the 35mm cartridge onto the reel in the dark perfectly so that the negatives came out clear was a challenge for me and I am glad we no longer have to do that part.

A lot has changed. And a lot of photographer's are happy to set a camera dial to "black and white," happy with the outcome. I am not one of those photographers. I see value in converting the image to black and white, seeking a range of tones, with the ultimate goal to be that a print could not be determined if it were digital or wet dark room printed.

One of the things after converting an image to black and white, (and there are so many beautiful ways to do this) to really complete the image is burning and dodging, even slightly to bring out the white and deepen the blacks.

Below is what we refer to in the wet darkroom as a "work print."
Wilcox Presbyterian Church

This is one area I see similar between the wet darkroom and the digital darkroom. It's important in both processes and I have a sense of humor about the fact that in a world where people think we just push a button and everything looks perfect, the dodging and burning is still an animal all of it's own. In the wet darkroom, trying to use my hands to shape just the right size and area I wanted to dodge and having it be awkward and take a lot of tries and experiment to get it just right. And I find myself working on this black and white church project where most of my subjects are bright white to begin with and many times no clouds in the sky. I need to achieve separation in the tones and instead of awkward hands and counting so many seconds to see of I burned or dodged long enough and then developing, I now have the BIG CIRCLE of a dodge and burn tool.
It may be quicker than the wet darkroom because we don't have to wait for a print to develop to see if it was the right area and amount of time, but I find it just as challenging because unlike my hands that I could shape and feather in area of the print, I am stuck with this circle, which can be made huge or shrunk, but I prefer my hands, it's more organic.

Maybe someday Adobe will come up with a tool where I can "dodge and burn" the image with my hands across my computer screen. For now I will try to appreciate the circle as a tool to help me get where I want.

And by the way, I have come close over the years with the digital prints, but have never seen one actually obtain the quality that the silver halides created in a wet darkroom print.


  1. Your post brings back memories for me of time spent in a darkroom developing film and black and white prints. I have always wanted my very own darkroom, someday! That is if we can still get the chemicals and paper or have I already missed the boat?

  2. Rita, I miss my darkroom as well. We moved a few years ago and didnt set up. You can still get supplies. If you really think you may set one up some time, maybe consider purchasing enlarger's etc at estate sales now (as long as they are in working order now, they should be fine when you set up)