Dodge and Burn Techniques


Today’s Question: Could you please address the best ways to do local dodging and burning, in Lightroom Classic vs. Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In Lightroom Classic you can dodge and burn using the Adjustment Brush to paint adjustments into specific areas of a photo. In Photoshop I recommend a technique that involves painting with black and white at a reduced opacity on a separate layer set to the Overlay blend mode.

More Detail: Dodging and burning involves lightening and darkening specific areas of an image, often to enhance detail or refine the mood of an image. The concept comes from the wet darkroom, where you could dodge and burn by adjusting how much light reached the photographic paper during exposure with an enlarger.

In Lightroom Classic the Adjustment Brush tool can be used to lighten and darken specific areas of a photo. After selecting the Adjustment Brush from the toolbar below the histogram display on the right panel in the Develop module you can set a slight increase or decrease for the Exposure control. Then paint within the image to apply that lightening or darkening to specific areas of the photo. You can add additional edits to enable lightening in some areas while darkening in others, for example.

In Photoshop I recommend a technique that involves painting on a separate layer. Start by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the Create New Layer button (with the plus symbol) at the bottom of the Layers panel. In the New Layer dialog that appears, set the Mode popup to Overlay and turn on the “Fill with Overlay-neutral color” checkbox. Click OK to create the new layer.

Next, choose the Brush tool, and set the colors to their defaults of black and white by pressing the letter “D” on the keyboard. On the Options bar set the brush to a 0% value for Hardness and reduce the Opacity for the brush (not the layer) to about 15%.

You can then paint with black on the new layer to darken areas of the image, and paint with white to lighten. Note that you can press “X” on the keyboard to switch between the foreground and background color, which means switching between black and white in this case.

It is possible to apply effective dodging and burning with either Lightroom Classic or Photoshop. However, my preference is to use Photoshop because I find it a little more streamlined to work on a single layer, painting with black or white to switch between darkening and lightening. With Lightroom Classic it can be a little more complicated since you need to work with more than one edit pin in order to be able to both lighten and darken.