Aperture 2.1 dodge and burn module – a quick tutorial and review.

Aperture 2.1.

“brush” based Dodge and Burn based tools.

The verdict?  Awesome.

After a weekend of playing with aperture’s new burn and dodge plugin, I remain as impressed with it as I was at first.  Quite frankly with this module and 1 or two more plugins, I may well never open photoshop again! (hyperbole, I’m sure).  So without further ado, a quick summary of how the tools work, and my experiences working with them.

First off – there has been some complaints that aperture creates a .tiff copy of your image when opening in dodge&burn (D&B) rather than working on the actual raw image.  The way I see it is that you would be doing that *anyway* if you were round-tripping to photoshop, so you are not losing anything – and you are gaining the ability to edit “in house”.

As a quick demo I took some screenshots from a shot I did for a local food magazine’s article about cheese.  Not the worlds greatest picture, but it illustrates the dodge/burn functionality well. Here’s the original image, straight out of camera (raw)

Note the heavy shadow on the grapes.  Yeah, I should have used another light for fill – sue me.

Now on to the plugin.  Unlike the standard image adjustments, the dodge and burn tool (the name is slightly misleading as it actually does more than just dodge and burn – it also allows saturation, sharpening and contrast brushes. Cool!) is invoked by selecting an image and going to image -> edit with->dodge and burn.  This opens the image in a popup window with the dodge and burn controls. If you’ve used photoshop, these controls will be immediately familiar – there is brush size, hardness and strength right up top.  By default, scrolling the mouse wheel increases/decreases the brush size, and pen pressure controls the effect strength.

Fantastic if you work with a tablet (and you should be!)  The control scheme is very natural and took no getting used to whatsoever.  You can hit “Z” to zoom to full size just as in the normal viewer, and holding spacebar “grabs” the image allowing you to scroll around it quickly in fullsize view, just like photoshop.  

With regards to the actual tools, they are divided into separate sections, selected from the dropdown menu on the left.

As a photoshop user, you might think of each tool as a separate layer with it’s own quickmask.  Click any tool to select it and start “painting on that layer”   I have selected dodge, to lighten up the shadows on the underside of the grapes, to make them “pop”  I select a large, soft brush and start with a relatively low effect strentgh (repeated passes will build up the strength of the effect so it’s good to start low to begin with).   I quickly paint over the grapes, and there is a noticable lightening of the shadows (amaizingly without bringing up much noise!) Now what’s really cool is that as you work, you can instantly swith between the normal image view where you can see the effect of the tool, and what apple calls “overlay” mode which actually shows you where you have paintined on the effect and the strength (kind of like quickmask in photoshop).  Clicking “O” toggles between the two modes.   I found this to be absolutely critical and gave a very fast and accurate tool to fine tune the area and strength of effect, allowing very precise control.   Note that you can still brush on the effect in overlay mode.  You can also switch back and forth between tools, each get’s it’s own “layer” to paint on, with it’s own overlay mode.  As you select each tool, you can turn the effect on and off to see the results by pressing “S” I found myself quickly going back and forth between tools, dodge/burn/saturation to tweak the images in various points.  And if you ever find that you’ve painted too much or in the wrong area, simply select the eraser tool, and erase the effect back.  The eraser works much the same way as the brushes, meaning it can have varying hardness and strength so that you can simply lighten an effect that was painted on too strong, or completely erase a mis-stroke.

Another tool worth mentioning is the “feather” brush.  This allows you to quickly blend the edge of an effect to make it more subtle.  I found this to work *very* well, and really allowed for some sophisticated effect blending to look totally natural.  To illustrate the feathering, I have brushed on an effect with a brush at 0% softness  and 100% effect strength, to give a completely hard-edged, stand out effect.  Now, I go over the edges with the feather brush, and they soften and smooth out, giving a much more natural transition.  Now that was just a dramatic example – when you feather a more normally applied effect, it works even better.  The results are subtle, but it really adds an edge to the image.



I found it quick and easy to switch between different effects, painting them on and erasing them, and quickly toggling overlay to view the progress.  Though not used in this image the sharpen and blur brushes can be used in much the same way in portrait/glamour retouching (although photoshop may still be required for some of the more sophisticated retouches of that sort!) And that’s about it! it’s rather simple, but I found it to be one of those “does exactly what it is supposed to do without a lot of extraneous junk” kind of things, which I really like.  Basic dodge and burn +brush based adjustment functionality, basic yet powerful controls. The image after a quick D&B: Now if you are a photoshop user, none of these features may seem like a big deal – “So what” you might say, I can already do all that in Photoshop”.  And you are right – none of the tools themselves are revolutionary, but the fact that you can now do it *not* in photoshop is quite intriguing.

The image after a quick D&B (no other adjustments)

Dodge and Burn functionality was something that I was honest surprised was *not* included with aperture or lightroom to begin with, as it is pretty fundamental to a lot of photograhic processing (at least for me coming from a wet printing background!)  It’s addition really takes the processing capabilites of aperture to the next level.  The fact that it is based on an open plugin architecture further leaves the door open for other modules and even more powerful processing capabilities.  It will certainly be exciting to see what comes down the pipeline in the next year or so!

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