Simple, yet powerful, this processing technique adds ‘light’ to the image, and can be used to fix hot spots, enhance or shape subjects, add drama and depth and elevate images to a new plane with a magical glow, even rescue those otherwise headed to the trash bin.
It was developed by renowned photographer Andrzej Dragan, whose impressive accomplishments include a Ph.D. in quantum physics, award-winning music composer, CGI artist, and movie producer.
Thankfully, the Dragan technique is easy to use. You simply need an image, Photoshop or other processing software that allows layers, a little time, and a vision to pursue.
How simple is it? If you can trace, you can Dragan.
Example: I signed up for a fun apocalyptic model shoot in a low-light environment. Admittedly, I’m a newbie in lighting...like, my-brand-new–speedlight–arrived-moments before-leaving newbie. But, that didn’t stop me from going and shooting. I unboxed my new gear, stuffed it into my bag and headed out the door. My Nikon D750 shoots with superb clarity and minimal noise in low light scenarios, so that was a huge plus. I scored some shots that I was really happy with – now, how do I ‘fix’ the lighting in post!? DRAGAN!
Create a new layer, with blend mode set to overlay, and use the paintbrush tool to paint areas you want to affect (black to darken and white to brighten) without muddying or washing out the colors. This creates more depth and definition and preserves vibrancy and clarity. Try a different opacities for variance in depth. Experiment with the burn and dodge tools and use whichever tools best achieve the desired effect.
What Dragan Does
Paint with white in various opacities to enhance or shape subjects, or black to push areas into the background. In my example shots, the model was backlit, leaving her face was in shadow but, from my histogram, I knew detail was there. Working carefully with my paintbrush tool and white, I coaxed the details out from darkness, enhancing her beautiful eyes, the highlights on her lipgloss, her hair color, and other features.
We’re taught to use sliders in the RAW processor to open shadows. I’ve discovered through my own work that using sliders simply ‘lightens’ the contrast and ‘exposes’ existing noise which results in a hazy, milky image with added noise, especially in the shadows. YUCK! No self-respecting photographer wants that! Dragan adds light to darker areas without exposing existing noise, muting colors or killing contrast. How brilliant is that?!
Fix hot spots
Use the burn tool or paintbrush with black to ‘retouch’ hot spots, those brighter areas where details exist, but can’t be seen.
I wanted to emphasize her wild hair for greater detail. So, I used a very fine paintbrush, several pixels wide, and traced in a few individual strands, just enough for more texture.
Dragan S.O.S. (save our shots)
Don’t dismiss shots from a quick glance. Invision their potential and work them. Dragan will enhance data in properly exposed images which contain data in both dark to light areas. It will not recreate data that’s missing. So, rely on your histogram when shooting.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Play, explore, and find what works best. Post-processing is a journey. Dragan is just one of the amazing techniques bequeathed to us by our trail-blazing fore-tographers. Practice brings proficiency … set your inner explorer loose and discover the potential of this and other groundbreaking techniques.
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