/ Photography

Image Looks Flat? Try Light Painting in Post Production.

How can you bring a “flat” image back to life? We just wrapped up a two-part vlog series on light painting: a powerful way to guide your viewer’s eye to the important elements in a landscape.

Despite our best efforts to shoot at dramatic times of day, a raw photo often comes out looking dull, and global adjustments like exposure, contrast and color temperature won’t fix the issue.

To recover drama in an image, you can imitate the principles of light painting in post production. We’ll walk through 5 steps you can take to light paint an image:

  1. Identify the composition, shapes and lighting in the scene.
  2. Darken and cool the entire image, especially unimportant regions.
  3. Paint in global adjustments, then work your way to regional adjustments.
  4. Identify the natural direction and shape of light.
  5. Paint in some smaller details on the subjects you identified.

5 Alternatives to Dodging

Dodging — e.g. bumping exposure — isn’t the only way to draw attention to a subject. In fact, it is often my least favorite technique because it tends to scrunch together tonal details and crush dynamic range.

Here are 5 alternatives to dodging that will help bring a photo to life with light painting.

Light painting can be accomplished several ways, all with the same purpose of attracting attention to the primary regions of interest. Instead of being limited to exposure, you can use a combination of white balance, saturation, shadows, contrast and whites to draw interest to a region, or downplay unimportant areas by applying the reverse effect.

I find myself using light painting to the most success in images that are already exceptional straight out of the camera, but by mastering light painting in extreme situations, you’ll be better equipped to apply it gingerly to your portfolio images.

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Jonathan Lee Martin

Jonathan Lee Martin

Globetrotting digital nomad and fine art landscape photographer in Atlanta. Working remotely as a developer + international trainer, scaling mountains at twilight to discover non-touristy landscapes.

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