Burning and Dodging with Contrast

One of the more interesting techniques to come out of the TK8 plugin, I think, is a new method to burn and dodge images in a way that enhances contrast instead of just globally lightening and darkening all pixels that receive paint. 

The traditional way to burn and dodge

The most common method to burn and dodge an image is to fill a blank pixel layer with 50% gray and change the blend mode to Soft Light or Overlay.  Then paint on the layer using black or white paint.  White paint increases the brightness of underlying pixels and black paint decreases the brightness of the underlying pixels.  50% gray is transparent in these blend modes and has no effect on the underlying pixels. Brush opacity can be adjusted to control the strength of the effect.

The image below demonstrates what happens with this type of burning and dodging. White paint, 50% gray paint, and black paint are applied to Burn and Dodge layers created with the TK8 plugin, which automatically sets the appropriate blend modes.   The brush opacity was set to 100% for this example. 

The “White brush” line shows where white paint was applied to a 50% gray layer set to Overlay blend mode. The strongest effect appears at the center of the gradient with highlights and shadows being affected somewhat equally as you move away from the center.

The “Black brush” stroke was applied to a 50% gray layer set to Soft Light blend mode.  Here it looks like the dark tones are slightly more affected than the light tone, though the tonal darkening extends all the way to the edge of the brightest highlights.

As expected, the “Gray brush” stoke shows no change since 50% gray paint is transparent in Overlay and Soft Light blend modes. 

The “Paint Contrast” method

The TK8 plugin has an action in the Combo and Cx modules called “Paint Contrast.”

It creates a “Paint Contrast” pixel layer set to Hard Mix blend mode and 15% Fill.  There is no “transparent” color in this blend mode, so it’s not possible to fill the layer with 50% gray paint and have the image remain unchanged. 

The image below shows what happens when the same white, 50% gray, and black brush strokes are applied to this layer.

The “White brush” stroke created a change in pixel brightness that is more pronounced in the brighter tones of the gradient.  There is still some additional brightness added in the dark tones, but it is less than the amount added in the light tones.  As a result, there is increased contrast.  The light tones have gotten lighter faster than the dark tones and this creates greater tonal separation between highlights and shadows.

The “Black brush” stroke shows the opposite effect.  The shadow tones have become darker while the highlights are barely affected.   Again, this results in increased contrast.  Darker tones have gotten darker faster than the lighter tones so there is greater tonal separation across the gradient. 

The “Gray brush” stroke increased contrast in both the light tones and the dark tones.  The shadows have gotten darker and the highlights have gotten lighter.  Neither change is as strong as with the “White brush” or “Black brush,” but it’s easy to see the added contrast on both the light and dark sides of the gradient.

Improved texture: A practical use of “Paint Contrast” for burning and dodging

One way to increase local texture in an image, especially a nature scene, is to selectively darken specific shadow areas (burn them) and lighten specific highlights (dodge them).  Generally, this is best accomplished using a tablet and stylus (instead of a mouse, as somewhat exacting control is necessary) along with traditional burning and dodging techniques using a 50% gray layer.  Lights and Darks luminosity masks can help select the right tones, but it’s often easier to just free-hand burn and dodge with a small, low-opacity brush on those areas where local tonal changes are desired.  When done well, there is added local contrast that brings out the textures already present in the image.

Using a “Paint Contrast” layer for burning and dodging makes this process easier, especially if all you have is a mouse (instead of a tablet and stylus).  Painting black or white onto a “Paint Contrast” layer preferentially selects the tonal range that matches the paint.  Highlights get lighter with white paint and shadows get darker with black paint.  The opposite tone is minimally affected, and the end result is again that added local contrast is created that brings out the textures already present in the image.  A smaller brush or even a luminosity mask selection might be useful in some situations, but good results are also possible with just free-hand painting with a moderately large brush over the tones that you want to affect. Using “Paint Contrast” makes it easy to add texture to the image because the paint color (white or black) automatically selects the best pixels for increasing contrast.

NOTE: While it’s possible to paint with gray paint to increase contrast in both light and dark tones, this sometimes gets a confusing.  Using just black and white paint will simplify the process of burning and dodging with this technique.

Additional controls

Below are some additional options to fine-tune burning and dodging with contrast.

Brush opacity—Not surprisingly, brush opacity is one of the main controls.  It’s better to start with low brush opacity and then use multiple brushstrokes to slowly build up the effect.  A brush opacity of 5 to 10 percent is a good starting point for adding white paint and 10 to 20 percent for black paint. Brush opacity of 100% was used to create the demonstration image above, but that’s definitely too strong for actually adding this technique to your workflow. Increased contrast and texture are still achieved with a low-opacity brush.

Use a separate layer for white and black paint—This helps keep the dodging and burning confined on separate layers.  The “Paint Contrast” action in the TK8 plugin always gives the newly created layer the same name (“Paint Contrast”), so it’s helpful generate and label one for white paint and another for black paint in order to keep things straight.

Layer Fill opacity—Hard Mix blend mode is one of those where the Fill opacity can be used to increase or decrease the effect.  To make it stronger without adding additional paint to the layer, increase the Fill opacity.  However, 25% is about the maximum that works.  Above this level, the brush strokes start to become more obvious. Lowering the Fill opacity will, of course, decrease the effect.

The Eraser tool–Since there is no paint color that is transparent in Hard Mix blend mode, the way to remove this effect is with Photoshop’s Eraser tool. Setting the Eraser tool’s opacity to less than what was used for actually adding paint to the layer allows the effect to be erased gradually with multiple brush strokes, which can facilitate better blending.

Summary

Using a “Paint Contrast” layer adds a new dimension to the burning and dodging process.  Additional contrast is added as you burn and dodge and increased local texture is the result.  Since the choice of where to apply paint and how much to apply is up to the photographer, the final results are always quite individualized.  The effect often seems quite subtle because the blending of the paint strokes into the image is so good. However, when you turn the “Paint Contrast” layer off and on a couple of times, then the real power of this technique can be seen. 

Dave Kelly demonstrates burning and dodging with a “Paint Contrast” layer in the workflow tutorial linked below. There are several useful TK8 techniques shown throughout the video. Burning and dodging with contrast starts at 23:00.

Updates: Paint Contrast video and TK8-beta with Photoshop 22.5

Paint Contrast

Dave Kelly posted a good video last week demonstrating how to use the “Paint Contrast” action in the TK7 Combo and Cx modules. I’ve linked to it below.

My friend B. pioneered contrast painting. Dave’s video bumps it up a notch. I’ll explain. The Paint Contrast action allows adding contrast to an image simply by painting on a specially constructed pixel layer on the Layers panel. To make it easy, there are just three “colors” to paint with:

  • 50% Gray–Which darkens shadow values and lightens highlight values, i.e. increases contrast in both shadows and highlights.
  • Black–Which primarily darkens shadow values (increased contrast in the shadows) and affects highlight values less.
  • White–Which mostly lightens highlight values (increased contrast in the highlights) and affects shadow values less.

The neat thing about this technique is that you don’t need a luminosity selection to paint through in order to target specific tones. Painting with black paint is almost like painting through a Darks-1 or Darks-2 selection and painting with white is like painting through a Lights-1 or Lights-2 selection. Black paint automatically selects dark tones to darken and white paint automatically selects light tones to lighten. And, just like with luminosity masks, the painting blends seamless, especially when painting with a feathered brush. So, while painting with black affects shadow values most, it also feathers the effect perfectly to blend the change into the image’s midtones and highlights. Likewise, painting with white affects highlights most, but also tapers perfectly into midtones and shadows. And, of course, painting with 50% gray feathers the effect into both the shadows and the highlights.

Dave demonstrates painting with all three colors, but the new thing I learned from the video is to use a different layer for each color. I had been using this technique on a single layer, mostly painting with 50% gray and occasionally lighter or darker shades of gray. However, by doing a separate “black paint” layer and “white paint” layer, as shown in the video, you can affect shadows and highlights independently and better tailor the effect to the image. This offers more control in both tonal ranges even when working on the same area of the image that has both shadow and highlight values. This control also extends to subsequently fine-tuning the adjustments, like changing the layer’s Fill opacity. The painting contrast technique is super easy and often yields pleasing results. I hope you’ll give it a try.

TK8-beta with Photoshop 22.5.0

Adobe released Photoshop 22.5.0 almost two weeks ago, and I’m happy that TK8-beta still works with it. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking whenever there is a new Photoshop drop. Something is always broken that wasn’t broken previously, and it’s almost impossible to predict if the TK panels will be affected. This isn’t entirely unexpected. The new UXP architecture on which TK8-beta is built is still evolving with new features being added and talk of some elements eventually being deprecated. I really like what UXP can do, so overall I think it will be positive direction long-term. I’m committed to trying to keep up with Adobe and fixing things as soon as possible if they do break. If you do have problems with TK8-beta, be sure to contact me so I can investigate and get things working. Also, it’s a good idea to save your download link. It can always be used to download the latest version from the download server so that when bugs do get fixed, you can get updates installed soon after I post information on this blog.

There are two things worth noting after the recent update to Photoshop 22.5.0. The first is that some of the formatting for the TK8-beta user interface shifted a little. The spacing around some elements in the sub-menus might look a bit off. This doesn’t affect the functioning of the plugin, but if it bothers you, use your download link to get the newer version, which has been added to the download server, or contact me if you need your link reactivated. These formatting issues will also be corrected in the final version of TK8 to be released later this year.

Another problem related to Photoshop 22.5.0 only happens on Windows computers and concerns input boxes, those boxes where the user can type in a value, like the Opacity value on the Layers panel. If you click in an input box to create a cursor there and then click the “Backspace” key, it doesn’t delete characters in the input box like you’d expect. Instead, it deletes layer masks or even layers on the Layers panel. Definitely not a good thing. You could accidentally delete a layer mask or even a layer without realizing it. This is new to Photoshop 22.5.0 and can affect the TK8-beta modules as well. (Interestingly, TK7 modules appear to NOT be affected.) For example, if you click in an input box on one of the TK8-beta modules, like to change the Height or Width for web-sharpening, and then tap the backspace key, the active layer(s) get deleted. Adobe has acknowledged the problem in this post, and it’s bad enough that they’ll probably try to get it corrected in the next dot update. Again, this is only a Windows issue. The “delete” key or “fn + delete” on Mac doesn’t have this problem. The short-term workaround is to use the cursor to highlight the letters and numbers that need to be changed and then immediately type their replacements without clicking the backspace key. This works, but if you’re like me, the backspace key is used almost as often as the space bar. So it’s hard to remember not to use it when working inside an input box. I know Adobe is dedicated to fixing bugs and am sure this one will get fixed in the near future.