Photography Techniques Tech

Mastering Dodge and Burn in Photography

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Tools

When you understand how to dodge and burn your pictures, you’ve mastered some of the essential methods in images – utilizing post-production to attract a viewer’s eye via a picture. There are dozens of methods for dodging and burning, though doing it incorrectly can result in unnatural halos and different artifacts in a picture. So, what are dodging and burning, and how are you going to benefit from them in images?

What Are Dodging and Burning?

Dodging and burning are two of the oldest artistic post-processing methods in images. They originated early in the darkroom days, and they’re fairly easy to know:

  • Dodging: Brightening a part of a photograph
  • Burning: Darkening a part of a photograph

Dodging and burning are native changes, which means that they aim particular areas of a photograph quite than adjusting the entire thing equally.

Within the darkroom, you’d dodge a picture by stopping a number of the enlarger’s mild from shining in your light-sensitive paper. For instance, you can connect a bit of cardboard to the top of a skinny deal with, then maintain it over the world the place you need to block the sunshine.

Or, to burn an space of your print in the darkroom, you’d merely permit extra mild to shine on it. The simplest strategy to accomplish that is to make use of a big sheet of cardboard with a gap via the center, then place it strategically over the world of the picture you need to darken.

Even right now, the dodge and burn instruments in Photoshop seem like a lollipop and an open-hand circle, respectively. They mimic the form of the dodge and burn instruments in the darkroom.

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Tools

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Tools

Why It’s Essential to Dodge and Burn Photographs

A big a part of post-production is emphasizing the elements of your photograph that work properly – and de-emphasizing the elements that don’t. For instance, in case your portrait topic has lovely eyes, you need to be sure the viewer can see them properly. That is the place dodging and burning are essential.

By brightening or darkening a part of a picture, you draw consideration towards it or away from it. Photographers incessantly “burn” the corners of a photograph (darkening them manually or with the vignetting software in most software program) to draw extra consideration to the middle. They’ll “dodge” different areas, like individuals’s faces or eyes, in addition to foreground topics in a panorama that are supposed to draw a viewer’s eye.

Often, the most effective dodging and burning is delicate. You don’t need your viewer to note that a part of the photograph is unusually vibrant or darkish.

Pattern Photographs

Check out the examples under, and see should you can guess which objects have been dodged or burned in every one. Solutions proven in any case 4 pictures:

Foreground DodgingForeground DodgingNIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.four @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1.6 seconds, f/16.zeroSky BurningSky BurningNIKON D7000 + 24mm f/1.four @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/30, f/1.fourWaves Dodged and BurnedWaves Dodged and BurnedNIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.eight @ 105mm, ISO 400, zero.eight seconds, f/9.zeroNo Dodging or Burning AppliedNo Dodging or Burning AppliedNIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/four S @ 39mm, ISO 64, four seconds, f/

The primary picture above is fairly straightforward. There, I dodged a part of the foreground close to the shell, making it simpler to see. I burned one of many clouds in the sky that was too shiny.

Within the second picture, I burned numerous areas of the sky that had faint traces of clouds, de-emphasizing them and attracting consideration to the beam of sunshine in the middle. Though you might assume I dodged the cloud in the very middle to emphasise it extra, I truly stored it principally the identical, apart from burning a bit in the middle that was too shiny.

What concerning the third picture? This one is even trickier. Discover the three layers of comparatively shiny waves, in addition to the splash across the rock on the left. I dodged the bottom-left wave considerably. The massive middle wave, I didn’t contact in any respect. The upper-right wave, I burned fairly a bit. For the splash, I dodged the left half and burned the suitable half.

And the final picture above – certainly I dodged the rock? In reality, though I did do a worldwide increase of the shadows in this picture, I didn’t do any native dodging or burning to the rock itself, or anyplace else in the picture.

The purpose right here is that there isn’t any components you need to comply with for which objects to dodge and burn in a photograph. Don’t all the time dodge faces or foregrounds; don’t all the time burn clouds. As an alternative, in a given picture, ask your self which gadgets are too darkish or too brilliant in the context of their environment. Solely then do you have to begin dodging and burning.

Avoiding Halos

One tough facet of dodging and burning is “coloring in the lines” – ensuring that you simply brighten or darken the item you need, and nothing extra. Should you get this incorrect, you may find yourself with vibrant or darkish halos across the objects in a photograph, and it gained’t look very reasonable.

Bad Dodging with Halo ExampleBad Dodging with Halo ExampleA halo brought on by dangerous dodging method, turning the sky unnaturally vibrant across the tree

So, how do you keep away from halos once you dodge and burn? Even rigorously drawing your masks doesn’t all the time work – or it may be prohibitively troublesome, like completely choosing all of the leaves on a tree towards the sky. However there are a couple of totally different methods to get round this drawback.

First, in case your post-production software program permits it, goal areas by the brightness they have already got. In different phrases, prohibit your dodging simply to areas which are already in shadow, or your burning to spotlight areas alone. That approach, in case your topic is in entrance of a background with totally different brightness, you possibly can shade outdoors the strains with out worrying as a lot.

Concentrating on by luminance isn’t potential in all software program, although. To not fear – you continue to have good choices to keep away from halos. The perfect is to make use of extra than simply the apparent technique of brightening an area space of a picture. You don’t all the time have to make use of the “exposure” or “brightness” slider. As an alternative, you should use shadow changes, distinction, readability, even saturation to do one thing comparable.

For instance, say that you simply’re utilizing Lightroom and you need to dodge a shadow area with out creating halos round it. Though the most recent variations of Lightroom have a “luminance range mask” to focus on particular areas, older standalone variations don’t. In that case, the easiest way to dodge shadows is to create a small brush or gradient and merely improve the “shadows” slider. Your probabilities of producing an unsightly halo with this technique are a lot decrease.

Advisable Dodge and Burn Strategies

The most effective technique for dodging and burning is determined by the software program you’re utilizing. Totally different photographers even have their very own preferences, notably in complicated software program like Photoshop. So, though you could discover the next suggestions for dodging and burning to be useful, it’s value experimenting to determine your personal most popular methods as nicely.


There are dozens of the way to dodge and burn a picture in Photoshop, and the precise “dodge” and “burn” instruments aren’t even the most effective in many instances.

First, if you’re planning to dodge and burn, it’s important that you simply achieve this on a brand new layer. When you dodge and burn the bottom layer in Photoshop, you gained’t be capable of modify your modifications apart from undoing them totally.

Past that, although, one of the best practices get a bit tough. I’m a fan of making adjustment layers – say, curves – and masking out the areas I don’t need it to use. That’s a simple, versatile technique that doesn’t hurt your base layer in any respect.

There are extra complicated strategies as properly. One fashionable choice is to create a brand new layer and fill it with 50% grey, then set its mix mode to “overlay” quite than “normal.” By portray instantly on this layer with a white or black brush, you brighten and darken the areas of the photograph you need, respectively.

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Layer

Photoshop Dodge and Burn Layer

Or, when you simply need to do it the tough means, duplicate the bottom layer and use Photoshop’s constructed in dodge and burn instruments. For those who later determine that a few of your dodging and burning was a nasty concept, masks out these areas to disclose the bottom layer under.


Earlier than you get to the native dodging and burning steps in Lightroom, it’s a good suggestion to do as a lot as potential with international changes (edits that apply to all the picture). That’s as a result of international changes are far simpler to vary and undo. Native changes shortly get out of hand as you add extra and extra, to not point out slowing down Lightroom’s efficiency. 

If you do find yourself including native changes, I like to recommend beginning massive. Do gradients (normal, then radial) earlier than you utilizing the comb device. Typically, a single well-placed gradient can remedy the identical drawback as a dozen brushes.

When you’ve gone down the road and you’re utilizing brushes, I like to recommend staying away from the “exposure” slider in most situations. It’s the most certainly to provide halos, because it targets all areas of brightness pretty evenly. As an alternative, use “highlights,” “shadows,” “whites,” and “blacks” – and don’t cease there. One among my favourite methods to darken distracting highlights is with Lightroom’s readability function, which additionally softens up transitions round it.

In case you’re nonetheless operating into haloing issues, it’s time to make use of the brand new luminance vary masks. However you’ll often have the ability to clear up your issues with out it; in any case, Adobe didn’t even add this function to Lightroom till just lately.


Seize One

My strategies for Seize One are akin to my strategies for Lightroom in some ways. Begin international, and solely go to native changes when that fails. Do gradients, linear and round, earlier than shifting to the comb software. And enterprise past the usual “exposure” or “brightness” slider when dodging and burning.

Two additional factors apply in Seize One which aren’t true of Lightroom. First, native changes require using Seize One’s layer capabilities, that are fairly priceless. They don’t decelerate in the identical means as Lightroom’s native changes, and their opacity may be decreased in the event you determine later that you simply don’t need your edits to be as dramatic. So, don’t draw back from layers.

Second, the refined colour changes in Seize One imply you can goal sure areas very exactly with out doing native gradients or adjustment brushes – extra so than is feasible in Lightroom. Use this earlier than including native changes, or use it in tandem with only one or two brushes/gradients so that you simply don’t want dozens of them.

Capture One Dodge and BurnCapture One Dodge and Burn

Different software program

The suggestions above for Lightroom and Seize One apply to most software program available on the market. Begin international, and solely do native dodging and burning when you will need to. Even then, don’t do too many native changes, and know forward of time the way you need the ultimate picture to seem. Lastly, be versatile with the kind of native changes you do; use extra sliders than simply “exposure.”


Hopefully, the information in this text gave you a good suggestion of the significance of dodging and burning. Though not each picture makes use of these methods, they’re a few of the most beneficial to have at your disposal regardless of the style of images. Tell us under in case you have any questions or feedback about the easiest way to dodge and burn pictures in numerous software program, or anything you’ve in thoughts!