Dodge and Burn

Darkroom Printing

Photoshop Dodging and Burning


Darkroom Printing

Almost every print (digital images or film) could benefit from selective lighting or darkening of one or more areas. This is called Dodging and Burning a print. This is such an important aspect of photography, it was considered a major feature of the early versions of Photoshop.


Dodge and Burn Challenge


When a photographer shoots a subject that has more contrast or a greater brightness range than the film can record the final print in the darkroom may lack detail in either the shadows or the highlights. In the darkroom the photographer must dodge or burn a print to fix it. MOST pictures need one or the other for best results.



This is where a portion of a print is too dark in the shadows after the main exposure is made on the enlarger. To cure this a new exposure is made in the enlarger during which time the photographer holds back or shades the problem area using their hand or a piece of cardboard on the end of a paper clip. This may only be done for a few seconds during the enlarger exposure.



This is where a portion of a print is too white after the main exposure on the enlarger. The majority of the print looks good, so additional exposure would make it too dark. The cure, to add additional light ONLY to the white area. This will be adding additional exposure to an area that looks dark on the enlarger image as you view it in the paper. To do this you cut a hole in cardboard or use your hand in a cup shape to project a beam of light back onto the paper AFTER the main exposure.


For this assignment you need to find a negative that prints with a dark shadow or bright highlight that needs these techniques done to it. MAKE two where no additional work was done and one where EITHER dodge or burn was done to make the print good. This is a challenge assignment for students with good darkroom skills.


The Burn in Mask is always kept in motion while making an exposure. The light is painted on the photo to make a portion of the print darker.       


The dodge tool is a piece of plastic or cardboard on the end of a metal wand. This tool is also kept in motion during exposure. It is used to hold back light from a portion of a print to make it lighter.


The print on the left (below) was exposed using a test strip placed in the shadow area on the building. The photo needs to be either dodged or burned to allow the shadows and the highlights on the mountain to print. The print on the right was exposed for the bright mountains. This is typical of a print that needs extra work in the darkroom. For this shot we decided to dodge the building, it was easier than burning in the mountain.  


The Finished Print


To make this a piece of cardboard was placed under the enlarger about 6 inches from the lens. The outline of the building and trees was drawn on the cardboard and then cut out with a knife. Test exposures showed that to make a good print of the shadows (print on left) it would take an exposure of 8 seconds on our enlarger. To make the print on the right with the same enlarger it would take 20 seconds. That is a difference of 12 seconds. The enlarger timer was set to 20 seconds. During the first 12 seconds of the exposure the "MASK" was held in place and moved around slightly to keep the image edge from showing. After 12 seconds the mask was removed and the rest of the print got the 8 seconds exposure it needed. It is possible to do both dodge and burn on the same print. Dodge work would be done during the main exposure and burn would be added to portions of the print AFTER the exposure.































Here is a commercial dodge and burn kit. No worries, you don't need a fancy commercial kit...ever station has a perfect dodge tool.




Here is what NOT to do. In the following example, the dodge tool was just placed on top of the are to make lighter. The idea is to keep the dodge tool moving to make the area blend well and NOT be noticeable.




Photoshop Dodging and Burning

Today, we use Photoshop, or the Digital Darkroom, to do what the masters of photography learned to tweak in years past.


One of the earliest conventions in Photoshop was the development of the Dodge/Burn tool. Later, Adobe added Sponge to the tool mix, with the option to saturate/desaturate depending on the tool preferences. O will take you to the tool. And Shift O will cycle you through the three tools.


The key to success with Photoshop Dodge and Burn is three fold.

  1. Change to a larger brush

  2. Change to a softer edged brush

  3. Change the exposure to 10-15%.


I am not sure what the Default is so small and set to 50%, but you won't get very good results with the default.



In Camera Blending

Although not the same as selectively Dodging and Burning, one alternative today is to use in camera merging of complex scenes.