I met my donkey friend while I was out testing a Leica M10 Monochrom and 28mm f/2 Summicron lens. For those who don’t know, this is a rangefinder camera with manual focusing, so getting my friend’s eye sharp was a special challenge as he was getting restless because I didn’t have any carrots.
The Leica M is a classic photojournalists camera, so I wanted a shot which had a quirky, dense, black and white look. The black and white part was easy because the M10 Monochrom only shoots in black and white. For the rest, I used two of my favorite black and white techniques: dodging and burning and a vignette effect.
I carried out my adjustments in Capture One 20. The Leica shoots DNG files so I didn’t have to wait for camera support, and I love what Capture One can do with RAW files, and the control you get with its adjustment layers. ‘Dodging and burning’ is a generic description for lightening some parts of the picture and darkening others. I used a graduated mask to dark, or ‘burn in’ the sky, and a radial mask to lighten, or ‘dodge’, the donkey’s eye. The individual steps are below.
1: Darkening the sky
For the sky darkening, I selected the Linear Gradient Mask tool and dragged downwards from the middle of the sky towards the horizon. Using a mask tool automatically creates a new adjustment layer in Capture One – I’ve renamed this layer ‘Sky darkening’ in the Layers panel so that I can easily identify it again later. Then I just used the Curve panel to drag down the center of the curve and darken the sky. I’ve added a couple of control points near the bottom to lift the curve off the ‘floor’ so that the darkest parts of the sky don’t quite go to a solid black.
It doesn’t make any difference with a mono image, but I’ve used Capture One’s Curve panel in ‘Luma’ mode. This means it works only on luminosity values not color values, so in color photography you’ll get a contrast increase without a saturation increase. There aren’t many programs which offer Luma curves. By the way, you can click on any of these screenshots to see them at a larger size.
2: Lightening the eye
To lighten the donkey’s eye I used the Capture One Radial Gradient Mask tool. I could have used the brush tool, but a radial mask is fine for this, just as long as I keep the transition quite broad and soft (one of the secrets to natural looking adjustments) – I can also move it around to find the best position, which in this case is just to one side of my friend’s eye.
3: The vignette effect
Vignettes can be good and bad. They’re bad if your lens has unwanted vignetting (corner shading) which you have to correct in software, but good as a way of enhancing the composition and contrast in photographs. Here, I’ve used a vignette to darken the edges and corners and focus attention on my subject. The vignette also increases the contrast within the picture for a more dynamic effect.
If this image looks a little dark, there are a couple of reasons. The first is that I did want a dense, dramatic look, since that’s my style anyway. The second is that the color of the background display makes a huge difference. The full screen version at the top of this article probably looks fine, but the screenshots below are against a white background which probably makes them look dark. I haven’t found a solution to this little conundrum yet, but I’m sure many other photographers will have the same issue.