Dodge and Burn – Lightroom 2 beta vs Aperture 2.1

Preface: this is a “sequel” to my previous article on the new dodge and burn plugin in Aperture, so it’s best to read that one first!

Here’s a quick rundown of my experiences with the new dodge and burn tools in the Lightroom 2 beta, and how they stack up to the same in Aperture 2.1. After a weekend of working with both tools, I’m still of very mixed feelings:

there are a few things I *really like* about Lightroom’s implementation, but in a lot of ways I feel they fall short. I used the same image as I did with my Aperture article for ease of comparison. Once again, here’s the original image:

Now Lightroom and aperture seem to approach the whole “brush based tools” paradigm in a very different way. Here’s the basic interface panel for the new tools in Lightroom 2 beta develop module:

Clicking the little “brush” looking icon brings up this dialogue. You’ll see the adjustment you want (exposure, which is essentially dodge and burn together depending on if you set a positive or negative value for the tool) and the standard size/feather/flow for the brush.

Note that as far as I can tell there is no kind of pressure sensitivity control when using a pen tablet as with aperture. You have 2 brush “presets” A and B and can switch between them. I usually keep one as a soft brush and one as a hard brush.

Another interesting feature is the “auto mask” which essentially tries to keep the adjustment you are painting within the boundaries of the area you are working in (by finding the edges and containing it within them). This seems to work fairly well on some images (that have clearly defined areas/regions, like burning the sky against a building for example) and not so well on others. Still a neat addition.

Now here we come to a fundamental difference between the Lightroom and Aperture implementations. While Aperture essentially has a “layer” for each adjustment (dodge, burn, saturation etc…) which you paint into, Lightroom uses discreet “point based regions” for each adjustment. To clarify: in Lightroom every time you make a “new” adjustment it creates a “point” which is a little white dot around which that brush stroke adjustment is based. This is essentially the anchor for the adjustment region, and you simply paint on the adjustment you want.

You can also switch to the erase brush with the same controls (feather, softness etc…) or simply toggle it by holding the option key (alt on windows I believe)

The interesting this is that once painting, each “pinned” region becomes just another adjustment on the image and can be changed/refined after the fact, by selecting “edit” and editing the adjustment – you can adjust the amount of exposure (dodge/burn) etc…

Now the annoying thing (to me at least) is the fact that there is no way of toggling the “overlay” of the brushed/adjusted area the way there is in aperture. When you hover over on the the “pins” it comes up with the area highlighted, but only while you are hovering over it. Sometimes you really want to be able to fine tune the edges of your adjustment area, and it is difficult to do this without having an overlay view. Hopefully this is something that will be implemented by the final release. I also wish they would make the overlay a color rather than just a translucent grey/white as sometimes it is difficult to see when brushing an effect onto a bright/white area.

As opposed to the Aperture paradigm of having a single adjustment layer with various intensities, here you are more likely to make multiple overlapping “point” regions, and adjust them individually after the fact. Unfortunately what I found was that this lead to a lot of “guesswork” for example when you want to lighten an area, first you have to guess how much exposure should be applied, then brush it in, then further refine it by adjusting the level, then if a “sub-area” need to be lightened/darkened more you have to create a new overlapping point region and again guess how much exposure is needed and adjust from there.

I give the win to Aperture’s implementation for ease of use and intuitiveness, but I can see the potential in having independently adjustable brush-edit regions.

Now after complaining about the implementation of the tool, I would like to point out the one incredibly awesome feature of Lightroom’s adjustments, that by itself may even be significant enough to swing the decision in it’s favor despite my favor for Aperture’s implementation:

that is the inclusion of the edits in the adjustment history for the image.

As mentioned before, Aperture creates a separate .tiff file from your master .raw when you invoke the burn and dodge tools. While not a huge drawback (it’s no different than roundtripping it to Photoshop for example) it adds a layer of complexity, as you are now essentially adjusting 2 images.

Lightroom on the other hand, makes the adjustments exactly the same as any of it’s other adjustments – meaning they they apply to the raw file, and are included in the history. Being able to step back and forth through the edit states of an image is just a fantastically useful feature, and a huge point in Lightroom’s favor.

In conclusion after using both tools for a short time now, I am really torn. I like apertures implementation overall better – it feels more natural and almost “painterly. I can definitely appreciate the approach of Lightroom’s implementation, but to me it isn’t quite “there” yet – there are a few annoying little details that make it less useful overall – the overlay is rather useless, with no toggling option and there really should be some kind of pressure sensitivity. It would also be nice to be able to label the “pins” to easily remember which pin went to which adjustment. I also really miss brush based blur and sharpening (both of which Aperture has).

Nonetheless, Lightroom gets big points for incorporating the brush tools into it’s standard workflow and history panel. This is simply an amazing feature which cannot be overlooked. If Lightroom can fix/improve the issues with the masking/overlay transparencies by the final release, it may still win out over Aperture. For now I reserve judgment – I will play with both and wait for the Lightroom final release 🙂

It was bound to happen, Adobe counters with Lightroom 2

Of course, with my gushing about the revolutionary aperture 2.1 etc… I was bound to be shown up somehow. Enter Lightroom 2 (beta).

while still a pretty rough beta (there are a number of pretty big known issues) it too adds brush based controls, along with a slew of general interface/usability improvements and dual monitor support, putting it right back in contention for the #1 spot on my mac!

Immediate reactions to the lightroom dodge and burn:

pro: it doesn’t require exporting to to a file to use the brush tools, they are built right into the develop module – meaning they are included in the history panel -HUGE!! (although I said I didn’t *mind* having to do it in aperture, not having to do it is even better!)

con: it doesn’t seem to have brushes for sharpen/blur like aperture
con: I like the overlay mode of aperture better, and the ability to feather the brushstrokes after the fact.

I think I’m going to do a side by side comparison between the 2 tools, and maybe a quick writeup – stay tuned!

One of the things that I really liked about the lightroom 1 betas is that they were really responsive to feedback from the community and testers, which is why it doesn’t bother me that this version is kind of rough- if past indications are anything, I am fully confident that Adobe will have the issues addressed and polished (minus the few inevitable bugs) before the final version goes live. I’m even anticipating a few new features to creep in (blur/sharpen brushes? please?)

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!

Did Apple just kill Photoshop?

I know, I know… it’s a sensationalist headline, but that was my initial reaction after about 10 minutes of playing with the new Aperture 2.1

In case you hadn’t already read, apple just introduced editing plugins for aperture, including true photoshop-style brush based controls such as burn/dodge etc… Noiseninja and others coming soon!

In what seems to be a largely (as of yet) unpublicized announcement, Apple has just dropped a bomb!

It may just be a .1 release, but I think this is a bigger shakeup than aperture 2 itself.  Software like aperture and Lightroom have been great for DAM (Digital Asset Management) and great for doing quick adjustments to exposure/tone/etc… but true “editing” remained the province of Photoshop until now.  The addition of brush based tools (particularly burn and dodge) is *huge*.  Many photographers have lamented that they’d love to use Aperture/Lightroom exclusively, but can’t because of the need for Photoshop to do targeted adjustments.  Not anymore – do all that in aperture itself.  With plugins coming from NoiseNinja (the other main use of Photoshop for me) and many others sure to follow,  aperture 2.1 may just make Photoshop a “non-necessity” for a number of photographers.

Of course time will tell 🙂