Dodge and Burn: how to master one of the most vital photo editing skills


It may date from the days of the traditional darkroom, but knowing how to dodge and burn is still an essential skill for the modern photographer. In this tutorial we explain everything you need to know.

Dodge and Burn: how to master one of the most vital photo editing skills

Dodging and burning are the terms used to describe the practice of selectively brightening and darkening parts of a print made from a negative using an enlarger in a traditional darkroom.

Although many photographers regarded it as enormous fun, it was a genuine dark art because the results only became visible once the print was developed.

It works on the simple principle that exposing parts of the paper to more light (burning it) darkens that section of the print, whereas shading areas from light (dodging) makes them lighter.

The aim was to bring out details, enhance or reduce contrast and even direct the viewer’s eye towards the main subject by selectively darkening and lightening some areas.

Photoshop also allows dodging and burning, but as you might expect, it makes it a lot easier and the process far more sophisticated than anything possible in a traditional darkroom.

For a start, you see the image in its final state, so you can assess the impact of your work as you go along.

Furthermore, the results are editable, so if you make a mistake or want to try something else, you can. It is also possible to target specific tones in the image so that only the highlights, midtones or shadows are edited and the effect can be built up gradually using a wide variety of brush sizes to create a natural-looking result – if that’s what you want.

And, of course, unlike in a traditional darkroom, you can make as many identical prints of the image as you like without having to repeat all the dodging and burning.

PAGE 1: What is dodging and burning?
PAGE 2: Get to know the Dodge and Burn tools
PAGE 3: Adjustable Dodge and Burn
PAGE 4: Dodge and Burn in Camera Raw and Lightroom


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