Dodging and Burning

The Dodge Tool, like in a traditional darkroom, will make areas of a photo lighter. The Burn Tool will make areas of a photo darker. These are two critical areas of control that will enable you create rich and/or moody atmospheres with your photos. These tools are particularly handy when looking to enhance a B&W photo... like beefing up the contrast to make a sky appear more dramatic and imposing. Let’s give it a go, shall we?


Step 1

Dodging and Burning Step 1

Open up your photo, and then double-click on the Zoom Tool to bring your image to 100% (it’s best to work at least 100% when editing, so you can accurately see how you’re modifying the image). Next, select the Dodge Tool, and check the Option bar to determine if the dodge tool concentrates on the Shadows, Midtones or Highlights. Depending on what you’re trying to do, it’s more effective work on the Midtones. Next, you’ll want to set the Exposure, which selects the strength of the effect. I suggest lowering it to maybe 20%, because you can use it successively to increase the effect on the image. Anything higher and the Dodging will be very pronounced. These tools are finesse tools… so be careful.


Step 2

Dodging and Burning Step 2

Using the Dodge tool; select a Brush that you feel is appropriate for the area of the image that you want to brighten. The right brush size is the size that will give you the coverage over the area you want, but one that doesn’t look obvious. Drag the Dodge tool over the image in the areas that you’re not happy with until those areas are bright and pleasing. This will enable you to increase the contrast in a specific area without affecting the entire image. In the photo on the right if we wanted to make the clouds appear more ominous, we would apply the Dodge tool to the pockets of lighter clouds at the horizon and bring them up.


Step 3

Dodging and Burning Step 3

Using the Burn Tool: This tool operates exactly as the dodge tool, but darkens (burns) the image to the level that you want. The Burn Tool is hidden under the Dodge Tool on the Tool Palette, so select the Dodge Tool and hold down the mouse until you can see the Burn Tool’s Hand beneath it. Now, in our example, with the Burn Tool selected, change the Range to Shadows so that you’re enhancing the shadow pixels the most. Next deftly paint over the foreground clouds… and there you have it — instant storm clouds (time to go inside!). You’ll also want to bring down the wild grass, the foreground main building and those weather-worn shacks in the distance, but I suggest changing the exposure to 10% when doing so. For more control, just paint over an object more than once, this way you extend the tonal range of the image.


Step 4

Dodging and Burning Step 4

Next, you need to pump up the highlights in the clouds at the horizon. Select the Dodge Tool, set the Range to Highlight, set the brush size and then paint the highlights to the desired level of brightness that you want. You’ll want to pick a relativity small brush tip though, because retouching highlights requires precision to get them looking right (i.e. not tweaked). Boosting the highlights really makes the image pop, doesn’t it? If you want to compare the work that you’ve done with the burn and dodge tools to the original image, go to the History Panel and scroll up to the Snapshot.


Before & After Dodging and Burning

Before Dodging and Burning
After Dodging and Burning



Dodging and Burning are two key and useful tools in your digital darkroom. They help you invigorate photos that you didn’t have time to make just right at the time of the shoot, due to lighting, make-up, environmental conditions or whatever. Now is your chance to make amends, just don’t go overboard or get lazy when shooting. And as we just demonstrated, you can give your B&W photos new qualities that are stimulating and arresting!

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.