By Levi Shand
Controlling the edges of the frame means keeping high contrast near the edges of the frame to a minimum. Areas of high contrast near the edges serve as exits for the viewer’s wandering eye, and give it an escape out of the frame. Perhaps secretly or not so secretly we street photographers would like our viewers to truly enjoy our images, not simply pass them over once and provided such a simple escape, move on. Keeping low edge contrast can seem like a trick when framed this way, but let it rest as one more tool in your street photographer’s instrument bag. There are shots which call for even contrast, high contrast, and so on, so let beware letting worries of higher-than-is-healthy edge contrast speak louder than what a piece is asking for. Know the rule and refer to it per your personal judgment.
How to Control the Edges in the Camera
When you are out shooting to practice edge control, pay special attention to bright areas near the edge of the frame. Adjust your positioning until you have framed the shot in such a way that preserves the interior of the frame as its most contrasty area. Easy cheats to achieve solid edge control include shooting from inside buildings and tunnels, for example, or into well-lit areas from without.
How to Repair High Contrast in Post
As a street photographer in the digital age, there are countless tools at your disposal for selectively lowering contrast in an image. As a personal challenge, however, I submit that working with what tools you’d find in a darkroom may give your work a less “processed” feel.
Of course, I’m talking about the trusty old dodge and burn tools.
Now, there are several ways to approach the issue. In CS6, when a user clicks on the Dodge/Burn toolbar button, the top toolbar changes to offer settings for the tool. Before clicking all around the edges of the image, be sure to check out the “exposure” drop-down box. Imagine it this way: leaving the setting at 100% exposure and wearing out the mouse button darkening or lightening images is the equivalent of further exposing those areas for a longer time. If you lessen the exposure, to say 25%, you’ll have finer control over the strength of the tool. This way, the image won’t brown or fade so much and the process may be achieved with greater subtlety.
Also, make sure the tool’s range is set to “midtones”. Darkening shadows or brightening highlights can have unwanted effects. Try all three settings for your own education, but in the end settle upon “midtones”.
Choose your burning radius and at minimum hardness, give those areas of high contrast a click or two with the outer edges of the tool’s effect radius. Good dodging and burning should be invisible to the passing eye.
Why not just apply a vignette in post?
Years were spent on the part of lens manufacturers to eliminate vignetting, a pesky defect that has of late come into some vogue among contemporary street photographers. Applying a digital vignette adds murky darkness around the edges (especially the corners) of an image with the intention of magnifying dramatic effect, albeit falsely. As a street photographer that takes great joy in seeking out and capturing life’s unguarded, honest moments, I advise to at least try leaving the digital vignette out of your workflow for a few months. There seems to be little sense in covering something honest with something false, at least to me. Have a look at some masterworks, wherever you may find them, and imagine that vignette adorning their borders.
I’d challenge you to try to recognize the ease of the digital vignette and to forego it, at least for awhile.