Photoshop: Dodging & Burning

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Article Courtesy by Denise Gormish

Are you tired of photographs with dark or light areas that you can't seem to fix? One possible solution is to use the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop. These tools allow the user to adjust the lightness and darkness to an area of a photograph. The Dodge tool lightens the pixels in an area, and the Burn tool darkens the pixels in an area. This allows you to adjust the brightness or darkness of your image.

To begin, make any overall adjustments by using levels or curves. These changes are good for changing the overall quality of a photograph. Dodging and burning changes are good for changing smaller, specific areas.



This is the original image, then the image changed with levels in Photoshop. I could have increased the levels more to darken it but all details would have been lost.

You can access the dodging and burning tools on the toolbar.

3_136The dodging tool looks like a black dot on a stick and is used to lighten the pixels.


4_116The burning tools looks like a hand and is used to darken the pixels.


Before beginning save a copy of your photograph.  Don't make changes to your original, in case you don't like the changes you make.  Next, adjust the settings. There are several settings.

  • Exposure adjusts the amount of dodging or burning. The results will be subtle if you set the exposure to 3-6%. I prefer to use a subtle exposure and go over the area multiple times if necessary.

  • Range specifies the range of tones that will be affected. "Highlights" will affect the lighter areas, "midtones" will affect the middle tones and "shadows" will affect the darker areas. Use the "highlights" setting most often for the dodge tool, and the "shadows" setting for the burn tool.

  • Brush size specifies the size of the tool you will be using. Use a larger brush for a large sweeping area and a smaller brush for specific details.

  • Hardness refers to the softness of the brush's edges. This setting should be low for dodging or burning.

Before beginning to edit the photograph make sure your color palette is at the default settings. To get the default setting, type "d." Select the brush tool. Use black for burning and white for dodging.

Next, paint the area to be adjusted. Use repeated sweeping motions over the area.

For my photograph I used the burn tool on the columns and at the top of the building. It created more contrast in the photo without losing details.


So, next time a photograph needs to be lightened, darkened or have contrast added, consider using the dodging and burning tools.


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