Saturday, 15 September 2012

How To: Make Your Own Dodging and Burning Tools

  Ok lets face it, for those of use who print in the darkroom sometimes using your hands to dodge and burn just isnt enough.  Sometimes you just get that one print that you cant seem to get right no matter how much you wave your hands around in the path of the light.

  I have one particular print i am working on that is proving to be a major pain.  Its of a lovely 's' shaped tree i found by a river in the Borrowdale Valley, up in the Lake District.  I spent a good length of time setting up the shot and making sure i got the depth of field i wanted.  When it came to printing i found that around a 5 second exposure at grade 3 gave me the texture i wanted in the rocks at the trees base and in the light bark of the tree.  Some mild dodging and burning in a few places brought out some extra detail too.  The problem, however, lies in the fact that the top part of the tree has a very similar value to the hills in the background.  The result being that the bottom 3/4 of the tree stands out from the frame except for the top which blends in.  This makes the whole shot just seem ‘off’ to my eye.

  Obviously some dodging on the tip of the tree is required.  But, i cant use my hands without affecting other areas of the image eg the sky/foreground because whilst my fingers will block the light from hitting the tree, my hands will be blocking light from hitting the extremities of the print.

  So, i need to use some dodging and burning tools.  A quick look online will bring up a few hits of companies that make them but i can see a few problems.  Firstly you can probably make your own for about a millionth of the price (im a huge fan of home-making things if i can, it saves money that can be spent on other materials), and also there will come a point when the shape of the tools you have just won’t fit the dodge or burn you are trying to do.  So to my mind it just seems better and easier to make your own tools.
Now, some people just tear up some cardboard and use that – and to be honest i have done that in the past, its great for when you have large areas of open sky/landscape which you need to work on but its not very good for more intricate details.  Some people recommend using some coat hanger wire and attaching cardboard to the tip.  Again, totally fine if it works for you.  But i began to try and figure out my own solution which would work best for me.  I like the idea of things attached to wires but i knew that the thinner the wire the better as a wire too thick would make a difference to the amount of light hitting the paper under its shadow.  A couple of days of pondering ensued until i hit upon an idea.  Suddenly “pipe cleaners” just popped into my head.  You remember pipe cleaners form primary school?  Long-ish wires covered in fur – originally intended to clean pipes but adopted by schools for use in arts and crafts.  If i could strip all the fur off a pipe cleaner then the wire would be perfect.

  I went to my local hobby craft store and got 250 pipe cleaners for £2.99 and started stripping all the fur off the wires.  At first i just picked it off with my fingers but after about an hour i only had 3/4 of one cleaner stripped so it wasnt a particularly time-efficient method.  In the end i hit upon the idea of burning off the fur.  I got a metal tray from my oven and used the hob to start them cleaners burning before taking the tray outside.  If you do decide to do this yourself be very careful, fire is dangerous and the smoke that comes off these things looks pretty toxic.  Burn them outside, wear gloves and preferably a mask.  I dont want people mailing me saying they got burned because i told them to set pipe cleaners on fire - i wont be accepting any liability for what you do to yourself!  Once all the fur is burned off run the wires under water as there will be crispy bits still attached to them.  Be careful of these - i was running the wires through my fingers to pull the crispy bits off and ended up slicing my finger open (like a paper cut).  Again, wear gloves and take care.  Once the wires are all stripped dry them out by laying them on some kitchen roll/toilet paper.  Then get some used paper from old test strips and discarded working prints to cut out the shapes you require to attach to the wires with tape or glue.





  The great thing about this is its very cheap and you can make any shape you want to fit any dodge and burn circumstance.  One thing i should say is that the paper/card you attach to the tip of the wire should be white on the side facing the enlarger and black on the side facing the print.  If you have a white side close to the print you risk light reflecting off the tool and back onto the paper which would alter your exposure and you dont want that, do you?

  This was meant to start out as a quick tip article but i have kind of rambled on a bit.  Anyway, hope this helps some of you out there and if you make any tools of your own i’d love to see some photos and hear your experiences about using them.