Thirsty Thursday Q&A: Dodge and Burn

(Disclaimer: this in part was from my old blog, with some new material added)

For my first Thirsty Thursday Q&A we are going to take a look dodging and burning. Keep the questions rolling in, don’t be shy. Before I start answering new questions I have some old ones from before the blog I’d like to put up. Someone asked me not long ago about how to add contrast to an HDR image without turning the sky black. I talked a little about dodging and burning and the strength sliders in HDR programs, but this post will be on the dodging and burning. It was an un-edited HDR straight out of photmatix. Taken in the Black Canyon of the Gunneson in Colorado, it is your typical HDR. Sky was bright, foreground was dark, why not do HDR. The problem with this is that sometimes you get a very flat image with HDR. Sometimes you get a very 3 dimensional image. It’s always different. I have this beautiful light on this rock face but its not simple enough. There is too much going on with the rocks and it all looks like its on one plane.

I wanted to create some separation of this close rock face from the far ones on the right. So I use a little dodging and burning. Now, I personally do not use the dodge/burn tool in photoshop, I use a different method. I will make a copy of the layer I am working on, and fill it with 50% grey (edit -> fill…). I then change the blending style to “Overlay”. You will now be looking at the same picture you had before. Without going into all the details, Overlay basically makes lights lighter and darks darker (It’s not that simple, but for now it will do.) Now to darken areas, paint with black. To lighten areas, paint with white. Paint at like 10% opacity. Any pixel brighter/darker than 50% grey will be lightened/darkened. This way skips the highlights/midtones/shadows boxes and is easier to use, and I think looks better. It also doesn’t keep changing it as you hold the button down, to give you more precise control.

Anyway, brighten the area you want attention on (your eye is drawn to the highlights in an image) and darken the areas around it. Using this method, I made the close rock face more prominent and the right side less so. you can see in the side by side that the bottom half looks more appealing. Now, this isn’t an award winning photo but I just wanted one that would show this effect well.

Here is another example. It’s a (lot) bit over done to show you the difference (don’t judge), but you get the idea. Forest shots are notorious for not looking the same way as when you were there. I always shoot them a stop (at least) darker than what my camera meter tells me. This one is a bit bright to start with. Just take the same idea, paint with black on things that should be dark/things in the background, and paint with white on the subject (if dark, if not dark don’t) and things that should be lighter. Here’s your before and after:

And there you go. Try it on landscapes, people, macro, whatever. Most pictures benefit from some dodging and burning.

Keep the questions coming!


Elizabeth + Drew | Farm Engagement Session | Cape May County Photographer

Elizabeth and Drew’s engagement session was a blast! Normally props aren’t a huge part of what I do, but they wanted fishing poles, so I was definitely down with that. I love shooting out in the woods and fields, and its expected when you are done shooting with me you have to clean some dirt off you and pick off the hitchhikers. This was no exception. Full gallery link at the bottom.






Full gallery here.




This year we had Thanksgiving at “The Farm.”  The barn was freshly built by the Amish a few months prior and we broke it in with my wedding. It’s a large space Stan uses to teach his pastel workshops and it’s used as a photography studio sparingly, too. Next sensible thing to do is have Thanksgiving there. Now, contrary to popular belief I don’t take my camera everywhere and when I do I don’t always take pictures. Especially at family functions.

But I got a new manual focus 35 and the farm is beautiful, so why not.


So, we ran a 300 ft. coaxial cable to the barn. Supposedly you can run standard definition 1,000 ft and HD around 300 ft on a decent cable. It was $17.98 for 300 ft and 2 ends. I might need to do this more often, I could get really creative.



Full Gallery here:


Happy Thanksgiving.

Small Business Saturday!

For Small Business Saturday, if you book today, all winter sessions are half off ($200)!

Thanks to everyone who took advantage of the Black Friday Sale and now will have some beautiful art on their walls, but now it’s time to fill up your family picture frames!

Black Friday Sale!

If you really want to get your shop on but don’t want to leave your home, Black Friday has already arrived at Mike Sperlak Photography! Use the code “BlackFriday” at checkout to save 33% on prints! Follow these links to the open edition and Limited edition galleries! Sale ends midnight tomorrow!

Limited Edition:

Open Edition:


It’s been a busy day here today. Not only did I get my new blog up and running, but it seems we have received some reinforcements. A 5D MKII and some new lenses showed up at the front (back) door. Check it out:

A lot of us know what the MKII is all about (I have two now) but what are those other lenses? Lately I’ve been shooting in manual focus. I personally think “Focus-Recompose” destroys your creative juices because you have to start each photo in the same place. I also don’t trust Auto-Focus. So all of my primes I’ve been shooting in MF. the first from left is a Zeiss 85 1.4. An awesome piece of glass, to go from infinity to closest focus is almost an entire 360 around the barrel, so it’s easy to walk in focus. The next is a Rokinon 35 1.4. I was skeptical at first, with it not being a brand name and having manual aperture control, but I read good things about how nice it is wide open. So I took a chance and got, considering I’m only going to shoot it wide open anyway. Seems awesome so far. Here are some images, only slight expsoure and white balance adjustments have been made.

Zeiss 85 1.4
Rokinon 35 1.4

 Full reviews coming up for both of them. And I’m making a promise here and now, when I put up photos from now on for reviews/tutorials/boredom, they aren’t going to be super boring. I’ve read enough reviews where the guy reviewing takes pictures of brick walls.

What is this, a new blog?

My old blog sucked, so I had the guys at Fastline Media (Same people who did my site, an awesome job BTW) hook me up with a new blog.  I will only update this one now, so going to the old one might be less than fruitful. Anyway, I’m going to be posting often about new projects, tutorials, cool photography news, and I’ll be taking questions from other photographers and posting the answers weekly. I’m thinking tutorials on all things photography on Tuesdays (Tutorial Tuesdays), and Q&A on Thursdays. I couldn’t think of anything clever for Thursday, so its just going to be Thirsty Thursdays because I like it. Maybe I can run with the “thirst for knowledge”? Please use the contact form for questions.


Stay tuned.


Early Morning