Burgundy Flowers and the Strange Art of Digital Chiaroscuro


I don’t too often write about technique for the simple reason that as a self-taught photographer, most of what I know about how to use a camera or edit photographs has been learnt from others online who can have already explained things pretty well themselves.

Recently, however, I’ve been playing around in photoshop in some ways that are new to me at least, that I thought were worth a share. I am not going to do a laborious point by point demo here (although I am thinking of making a video at some point to demo this more clearly)


My original technique starts, of course, with someone else’s idea. The great french photographer Jean-Michel Berts in one of his own training videos explains a method where you add an adjustment layer to an image and in this layer take down the brightness of the picture until it is nearly black. You then use a brush to gradually paint back the light.


This was a revelation to me as it allows me actually to control the mood and lighting in any image to an unprecedented degree. When messing around like this, I started to be influenced by the dark and contrasty pictures by the original inventors of chiaroscuro (painting with light and shadow) such as Caravaggio.


At the same time I had been experimenting with using layer modes in photoshop and this is where my own bit of special sauce is added. If you make a copy of a layer in photoshop and then change its mode to multiply, you create a very dark and contrasty version of the original which also has highly saturated colours. you can then apply a mask to this layer and start to paint it out as Berts suggests.

_dsc4913-copyIn many of my recent images, I am using this technique which I then experiment with further adding layer on layer and painting out different parts of the image. I also mix in more traditional techniques such as dodging and burning.

In the flower pictures that have filled this page, taken in Burgundy in France, it has allowed me to either create these very dark backgrounds or more subtly light the flower and shift attention away from the rest of the shot.



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