Exercise Brief: Dodging and burning is one of the most widely-used darkroom techniques:

• Dodging refers to lightening a part of the image.

• Burning refers to darkening a part of the image.

These techniques are useful because they allow you to subtly improve the lighting and shadows in a picture. In extreme cases dodging and burning can be used to totally rebalance a composition and remove unwanted distractions by darkening them to black.

• Take one of your portraits you made. Open it in Photoshop. The dodging icon looks like a lollipop. The burning icon usually looks like a small hand with thumb and forefinger in a circle.

• Identify which part of your photo is the most important point – usually the face in a portrait. Use the dodging tool to lighten it. If the face is already too bright, dodge other important details that you want to bring out, or go straight to the next step.

• Identify which is the background of the image. Use the burning tool to darken your background plus any elements you want to be less visible.

• Continue to use the burning tool to darken any areas that detract attention from the portrait, e.g. something bright or vividly coloured in the background.

Tip Be subtle! Dodging and burning (and all image manipulations) need to be done in such a way that the image is believable. Otherwise, you’ll draw attention to the manipulation itself.

original-RAW-image
Original RAW Image
corrected-dodgingburning
Corrected Image after dodging and burning

I made this image of my dad in his living room.  This particular spot has natural sunlight coming in through the glass door, filtering in through the sheer curtains behind him. The sun is very bright at this time of the day and the light very harsh. Although I have shot from the side so as to not lose all details as is evident from the RAW image, there is a very strong highlight behind him and also reflecting upon the glass on the painting above.

I have used the burn tool on the sheer curtain to bring down the strong and extremely distracting highlight and also on the glass of the painting to even out the highlights.

I have used the dodge tool on his face to decrease the shadows that are falling on in the original image.

The end result is an evenly balanced image. Although one should focus on avoiding mistakes, to begin with, these tools are a great help to edit and fix images which did not have a choice of an ideal location and lighting like this one. My dad is visually impaired and is also very weak so there are only a couple of spots that are his favourites where he spends most of his time during the day. It’s not possible to ask him to model and move around and also most importantly I wanted to capture him in his favourite spots. So with the help of the dodge and burn tools, I have managed to create a well-balanced portrait of him.

5 thoughts on “Exercise 2.10 Dodging and burning

    1. Yes indeed it is Andy! Thank you! Am only beginning to realise the power of photoshop even though I have been using it on and off for several years now. And yes he is a great model – a very interesting face, made just for portraiture, though at this time he did not even know am taking his pictures due to his disability to see. But I never leave an opportunity to photograph him as it’s an absolute pleasure for me 😊 Thank you for taking the time out to comment Andy. I am thankful to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a lovely natural picture of your Dad that I am sure you will treasure. You have captured His concentration as he takes the phone call really well.
    When I undertook this exercise I found it really difficult, I think because I really did not understand how to use the dodge and and burn tools effectively. Your work through has helped me and I shall practice some more. Thank you for sharing this work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sarah. Yes, this is indeed a treasure for me to cherish. I can totally understand your difficulties. Photoshop is such a huge and overwhelming software that one can’t even dream of mastering it. I have been using it for quite some time for very basic editing work. Until now, I never realized the power of it. It is a learning for me as well. I take tutorials from the web and learn and then experiment. On the other hand, I have never worked in Lightroom so I don’t even want to start. I am comfortable using Photoshop and although it appears quite daunting at first, a step by step approach to it usually works. Am glad that it helped you as well. 🙂 Its my pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

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