Dodging and burning was a standard darkroom technique for black and white photographers, but it works just as well on colour shots. ‘Dodging’ is where you lighten selected areas of the image and ‘burning’ is where you darken them. With the Lightroom adjustment brush tool this is really easy to do, and you can control much more than just the brightness level.
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I’m going to try this out on a shot I used a few weeks back for a tutorial on Aperture watermarking tools. It’s a nice shot of an idyllic country cottage, but the sky is a little pale and the near side of the cottage is in shadow. It’s the ideal candidate for dodging and burning because it needs subtle, local adjustments applied carefully.
01 Adjustment Brush options
First of all, you’ll need to select the Adjustment Brush took (1) at the top of the tools panel in the Develop module. Underneath you’ll see sliders for the adjustment properties – I’m just going to reduce the Exposure value, and I can add other adjustments later if I need them. At the bottom of the panel you’ll see the Brush settings (3). I’ve set the Feather value to maximum to give me a soft-edged brush which will blend in the adjustments more subtly. You can adjust the brush size using the slider in this section, but it’s easier to use the square bracket shortcut keys to reduce (‘[‘) or increase (‘]’) the brush size. Finally you can start painting over the area you want to adjust with the brush tool (4).
02 Erasing adjustments
You may find you inadvertently paint over areas you wanted to leave alone – here, I think I’ve come too far down over the cottage with my adjustment. To fix this, you can select the Erase option (circled) and brush over the areas you want to restore. If you simply want to reduce the effect instead of removing it, reduce the Flow value (also circled).
03 Lightening the wall
Now I want to have a go at lightening the near side of the cottage, which is currently in shadow. To add a new adjustment, click the ‘New’ button at the top of the panel. This time, I’m increasing the exposure value, and I’m ready to start painting…
04 Check the outcome
As you add adjustments, you’ll see each one is marked with a pin. Unselected pins are blank, while the currently-selected pin has a dark centre. My new adjustment has worked well, but I think I’ve caught a little bit of the sky above the tree by mistake, and the sunlit flowers are the bottom right of the frame now look a little overexposed. Clearly, I’ll need to do a little erasing here too, but I think I need to be a little more accurate this time.
05 Display the adjustment mask
It’s going to be much easier to narrow down the area of my adjustment if I can see the adjustment mask that Lightroom has created, and there’s a button for this on the bottom toolbar (circled). The mask now shows up as a red overlay, and it’s much easier to see where I need to remove it.
06 The adjusted mask
Now that I can see the mask, it’s much easier to paint out the areas I need to erase. I’ve used a smaller brush size and concentrated on the sunlit flowers at the bottom and the leaves of the tree by the side of the cottage where they’re against the sky.
07 Top left corner
With the main adjustments finished I can see two more areas which would benefit from tweaks. The position of the sun means the top left corner of the picture is a little light, so I’ve used a small adjustment here to tone it down to the same brightness as the rest.
08 Deep shade
I’ve added another adjustment to lighten up the very darkest shadows in the wall, and the point to make here is that these adjustments are cumulative – this one adds to the lightening effect I added to this general area the first time around.
09 The finished picture
I think this dodging and burning process has made a big difference to this picture. You can’t apply it as an automated filter because every image is different, and needs its own carefully-crafted adjustments, so it’s quite nice to keep this craft element going in photography.
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