Thursday, January 17, 2013

Focusing on Results

Old school D&B

While I was editing this morning, I heard Amy Dresser in my head. In a webinar I watched years ago, a viewer asked Amy about the dodge & burn tool and why she used this tool over a non-destructive alternative (such as curves + masking).

Her response lingers my head,

"If you didn't want to alter the pixels you wouldn't be (re)touching them in the first place"

Let that simmer for a moment.

Now, the question is valid. Many newbie retouchers want to know why you'd use one tool over another particularly when they have (relatively speaking) the same effect. "Non-destructive" retouching was a big thing when I learned Photoshop. With the advent of masking, retouchers were afforded more opportunities to do the same thing without "destroying" or "altering" the original pixels. Non-destructive techniques allow the retoucher to "change his/her mind" should he/she go too far.

The problem however, is that the focus on non-destructive techniques is fundamentally a philosophical approach but not necessarily a goal-oriented approach. For example, the dodge & burn tool is not the same as a curve + mask. The results are simply not the same and the controls are not the same. On the D&B tool itself you have a few options that do not exist for the curves + mask approach. Namely the protect tones button. That button in itself changes the result of the D&B tool which curves + masking does not replicate.

Secondly, for me to alternate between 2 curves layers to accomplish both D&B effects is a tremendous waste of time. Just to set it up you have to create 2 curves adjustment layers, push/pull the curves, and then invert to black to paint in the effect. For the D&B tool, I hit "O" and paint away. Holding the [ALT/OPTION] key toggles between dodge and burn.

Furthermore I find the mask for the non-destructive technique to be less useful than you'd think. Everything in the mask is subject to the same opacity modifier. So if I "went too far" on one portion of the image, I can't simply dial back the opacity. I have to manually go in and correct for that part. Because the curves + mask technique makes everything "relative". You can increase the effect for the entire mask or decrease the effect for the entire mask. But without fixing/rebrushing the mask, you can not fix specific portions of your dodging and burning a la the curves + masking technique.

With all that trouble, I'd rather just use the D&B tool itself.

Non-destructive editing is fantastic if you second guess yourself often. It's fantastic if you make a lot of mistakes. It's perfect if you need multiple versions of the same thing. Personally I use the non-destructive version of D&B (curves + masking) to enhance certain highlights/shadows in the entire image. I never use it for fixing problem spots or makeup in the image. Once I fix something I never go back on my results. I would never want "less" of the fix. And I don't make "mistakes" fixing the image.

In conclusion, my gripe with non-destructive editing is that people focus too much on the techniques themselves and not enough on the results. I destroy pixels all the time. Can anyone tell? Does anyone care? In fact these days I don't even copy background layer because of file size and memory concerns. I find that 99% of the time I don't need the background layer. That 1% of the time, I just reopen the file from Lr and copy over to the file I'm working on. The point is that I do what works for me. In this case the ends do justify the means. I don't sweat the "what ifs" unless they're relevant and neither should you. Most of you will benefit from spending more time retouching and less time reading about retouching. You'll find greater clarity from the results themselves and be less bogged down by the various choices you're afforded via Lightroom and Photoshop. Focusing on results renders those lingering questions about technique ultimately irrelevant. It also makes you a better retoucher.

1 comment:

  1. That's interesting Charles, I always wanted to ask that question to a pro retoucher - why use destructive method if u could use a non-destructive.

    Could You show the difference between D&B and Curves on the same image, on the same spot? I'm curious how this "Protect tones" works in Your workflow 'cause I'd never chose it over curves and masking but maybe I will try it after Your examples.