This article covers a technique that is at once subtle yet, when properly implemented, can significantly improve an image. The technique is called burning the edges and is simple in its concept and application. It simply is a matter of darkening the edges of a print. This serves to help manage the eye of the viewer by keeping the eye directed toward the center of interest and away from the edges.
Ansel Adams used this technique on his landscapes and described the method in his book "The Print". Of course, Ansel Adams had to carry out the method in a dark room. We have the advantage of carrying out the procedure in a much easier fashion on our computers.
Figure 1 shows an image of a colony of ladybugs astride a waterfall. The ladybugs, and the weathered stump on which they reside, constitute the center of interest of the image. The waterfall and other assorted detail add character to the image but should not distract from the ladybug colony. Burning the edges of this image would serve to keep a viewer's eye directed toward the ladybugs.
There are many ways of burning the edges. This article will cover just one. This method uses a combination of a filled layer and a blurred mask.
The work starts off with the Layers palette. Figure 2 shows the Layers palette of the image before any work to burn the edges has been performed.
The first step is to create a selection that will be used to generate the mask. For this, the Lasso tool is used. Select the Lasso tool from the Tools Palette (see Figure 3). This will bring up a submenu. Now, select the Lasso Tool option.
Moving out of the Quick Mask Mode will allow the next steps to be performed, so choose the Edit in Standard Mode on the Tools palette (see Figure 7) to move the image out of Quick Mask mode.
Next, the selection is inverted. For this, choose Select/Inverse. Figure 8 shows the selection after inverting (in Quick Mask Mode).
At this point, it is a good idea to save the selection. It is preferable to save the selection before any blurring is done. That way, you can always come back to the original selection if you want to start over again. To save the selection, choose Select/Save Selection. The Save Selection menu will come up (see Figure 9). Under Operation, choose New Channel. In the Name box, enter a name for the selection. Click Okay, and the selection will be saved.
The final step in creating the selection is to blur the selection. For this step, the selection must be moved back into the Quick Mask Mode. Once in the Quick Mask Mode, choose Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur. The Gaussian Blur menu will appear (see Figure 10).
The goal is to produce a very diffuse edge to the selection. That way, the edge of the mask that will be produced from the selection will not be noticeable. The way to do this is to use a very large radius. A radius of seventy-five or larger is typical. A radius of 150 was chosen for this selection. Figure 11 shows the selection after the application of the Gaussian Blur.
At this point, it is necessary to move out of the Quick Mask Edit Mode.
In the Layers Palette, make sure that the Background layer is selected as shown in Figure 12 (this image only has the one layer; in other images, you will generally select the top layer).
The color picker menu will appear. Enter 1 in each of the R, G, and B boxes (see Figure 14). Click OK.
The reason that burning the edges works has to do with how the eye responds to highlights and contrast. Strong images have strong centers of interest. The rest of an image should serve to support the center of interest. When this occurs, the various parts of an image tend to work in harmony to create an image that garners attention. However, when an image has objects that grab the attention away from the center of interest, the image is weakened. Combine this with the fact that the eye is drawn to areas of highlight and contrast, and a potential problem can occur. The eye can be drawn away from the center of interest by areas of highlight or contrast that lie toward the edges of the image. By burning the edges, these areas of highlight and contrast are dimmed. Thus, the eye is no longer drawn to them; instead, it is drawn back to the center of interest. Thus, the image is strengthened.
So, do all images need to have the edges burned? I do not burn the edges of all my images. I evaluate each image and determine if burning the edges will enhance the image. If it does, I utilize the technique.
Ultimately, it comes down to what a photographer wants to express in his images and the tools he has to express it. This is a nice tool to have in one's tool bag.