This article is all about two incredible editing techniques that a product photographer or packshot studio should be aware of. Dodge and burn, and frequency separation both allow you to retouch a product photograph but they each have their advantages. The aim here is to explain each technique to help people to see when and why each type should be used, making your own mind up on which is better for your individual requirements.
Before editing, always remember to work in a non-destructive way so that if you need to go back and undo any changes then you can do so easily. This often means using layers in your editing software and there are some fantastic guides out there on this process.
To explain dodge and burn, it is helpful to go back in time a little! When using camera film and an image was being developed from a negative, you could expose parts of it for longer to get darker sections that were originally captured. This was known as burning and the opposite process was dodging, making parts of it lighter than the originally captured image.
In the digital era, the same concept applies whereby a product photographer or packshot studio is able to be selective about which parts of the product photo are made darker or lighter.
Using both dodge and burn can help enhance specific features of a product or model, helping you to hide undesirable marks or show off particular features. Always be careful not to go over the line from looking natural to looking over-edited or fake, but if you stay within this boundary then you will love the benefits of this technique.
Frequency separation can be a difficult concept to get to grips with unless you’re an experienced product photographer or packshot studio. In essence, frequency separation allows you to edit both the high-frequency and low-frequency information. High-frequency information is normally the finer details such as lines, dust or marks on a product or skin imperfections on a model. Low-frequency information is the colour information on an image.
This technique helps you to make those fixes to an image that may not have been dealt with when preparing the product or model for the shoot. For example, removing lint or marks on clothing that you’re taking photographs of. It helps you to remove any problems without impacting the colour or shading of the surface in question.
To summarise this article and answer the initial question, both of these techniques offer different solutions to a significant problem. That is improving the quality of your product photograph due to different reasons, such as a failure to prepare the product first or perhaps a less than perfect lighting set-up. Neither one is necessarily better as they are designed for different situations, which means that every product photographer and packshot studio should learn to master both of them.