Once you have pressed your shutter, its time to craft your final image in post-processing. To help guide us, we can look to some of the basic rules of composition. These can be a great assist in our final editing decisions. In this series, I’ll demonstrate how the compositional distractions and attractions of an image can be amplified or downplayed to enhance your masterpiece. This first post will show you how to lighten and darken to strengthen your subject.
Distractions and Attractions
The following parts of a photograph can attract the viewer and keep their attention where we want it, or distract them from the important aspects of the image.
- Bright areas of the scene
- Areas of high tonal contrast
- Areas of high color contrast
- Areas of high color saturation
- Sharp areas
Lighten and Darken to Strengthen your subject
The brightest areas of a photograph have a very strong visual attraction. As we scan an image, they are one of the first places we stop. This is a good thing if this is our main subject, but if its an area we don’t want our viewers to linger, then the brightness is working against us. One of the things you can do in post-processing is to lighten and darken to strengthen your subject. Using either Lightroom or Photoshop you can locally alter the brightness of any given area of a photograph.
In this image of a succulent, I really want the viewer to spend time looking at the center of the plant. This is where the all of the energy emanates. It starts from the center and works its way outwards. The image on the left shows the original. The image to the right I have added a Radial Filter in Lightroom to darken down everything but the center. By darkening down the periphery I’ve drawn attention to the center of the plant.
The image below is a double exposure. One of the problems you can face when creating doubles is perfect symmetry from right to left or up and down. For this image, I composed the first shot and then flipped my camera over and took the same shot upside down. The image on the left shows exact symmetry from left to right. Each side is the exact duplicate of the other. The image on the right shows how I darkened down some areas to draw attention to the bright horizontal streaks in the left center of the scene. This edit helps break the symmetry and creates the resting point in the “difference” between the two sides.
This last image is a perfect example of catching what you can when you can. I had set up this composition in the hopes of catching someone exiting the scene. The image to the left shows the proper exposure for both the outside and the inside of the building. The proper exposure, however, in this case, does not highlight my main subject. I want the viewer to first notice the man exiting and then to notice the inside of the building. The exposure on the left shows a fairly even set of tones throughout. In the image to the right, I have brightened up the outside and darkened down the inside. This signals the viewer to look at the outside and the person occupying that space. Only after the first initial inspection does the viewer “read” the inside to gain a full understanding of the entire photograph.
The simple act of brightening some areas and darkening others can have a profound effect on how viewers perceive your images. Remember, bright areas draw the eye while darker areas are relegated to a place of secondary importance. Through the local adjustments of Lightroom and Photoshop, you have the ability to guide the viewer through your photograph in a way that will determine how much time they spend in each area. Remember to lighten and darken to strengthen your subject. Determining the viewer’s focus is, of course, the ultimate goal in any image that we create.