Dodging and Burning

While there are many ways to adjust the entire picture as a whole, many times you will need to adjust only a portion of a photograph. One part of the photo may be too dark or too light.

That's where we will get into a few simple editing tools to adjust only portions of the photo.

Dodging and Burning

A throwback to the days of working in darkrooms, dodging and burning really mean "lightening" and "darkening" portions of the photograph respectively.

You can access these tools on the toolbar. One looks like a black lollipop, the other looks like a hand forming a circle.

Picking the dodge or burn tools in Photoshop

This particular photo example probably does not need a lot of dodging or burning, but with a few adjustments, we can help improve the overall impression to make the photograph "pop."

When you select the dodge or burn tools, the option bar at the top will give you a new set of parameters to adjust the tool's usage (as with any tool you select).

Option bar for dodge and burn tool in photoshop

One of the techniques for using either the dodge or burn tool is to adjust these settings so that you only change the photo in small increments. Use the exposure setting to adjust the amount of dodging or burning that occurs with each pass. The range will specify the range of tones that will be affected. Generally, you want to lighten highlights and darken shadows. This will ensure that the photo maintains a steady level of contrast as you adjust the photo. If you need to brighten shadows or darken highlights, then use the midtones setting instead.

The brush size will specify the size of the tool you will be using.

Brush size in photoshop

The master diameter is the size of what Photoshop calls the "brush" size. The hardness refers to how soft the brush's edges are. Generally with a tool like dodging or burning, you want a low hardness setting to offer the softest brush. If you are trying to be more exact, you can increase the brush hardness, but increase the chance that the touch-up will be noticeable.

Dodging a photo in photoshop

Dodging or burning usually requires several passes and changing the brush size several times to get to all of the details.

Dodge and burn difference

As you can see in this sample photo, after dodging, the shadow on the boys brings out detail.

Another practical use of the burn tool is to perform a technique called vignetting. This is a technique where the corners and edges of the photo are darkened slightly to help define the edges of the photo and help guide the viewer's gaze toward the middle of the photo.

Vignetting in photoshop

Vignetting is a common practice with many photojournalists, but can be controversial if overdone. Ethical standards vary, but the general rule is whether one is modifying the photograph beyond a point where it's deceptive to the viewer. Also be mindful that these days digital photos tend to be held to a higher standard because of the ease in which they can be manipulated.