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Photoshop Elements >

Burning & Dodging >


If you're familiar with burning and dodging, skip ahead to Methods.


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Burning In & Dodging the Old-fashioned Way

Burning and dodging have been used since the beginning of photography.

When you burn in something, you're darkening an area on a photograph.

For example, if a sky is too bright, you can burn in the sky to make it darker.

When you dodge something, you're lightening an area on a photograph.

For example, if you can't see someone's eyes because they're shadowed by a hat, you can dodge the eyes to make them lighter.

Why Do We Need to Burn & Dodge?

There are three reasons why you should consider burning and dodging.

1 - Move the Viewer's Eye

You can use burning and dodging to emphasize and deemphasize parts of a photograph.

By darkening and lightening, you can control where the viewer's travels around a photograph, and where it lingers.

2 - Add Depth, Texture, & Volume

If you add shadows, or darken shadows, you can add depth, texture, and volume to a photograph.

3 - Relieve Eye Pain & Frustration

In photography—WYSINWYG—what you see is not what you get.

Camera sensors increase the contrast of a scene.

Let's say you're photographing a picnic scene.

The sky is a deep blue with Ansel-Adams clouds.

The picnic table, in the shadow of a tree, is resplendent with gastronomic bonhomie.

However, when photographed:

• The sky will become a washed-out blue.

• The picnic table will be hard to see in a deep, dark, shadow.

The viewer's eyes are:

• Pained by the brightness of the sky.

• Frustrated by not seeing the picnic table clearly.

You'll have to burn in the too-bright sky and dodge the picnic table in the shadow.

The increase in contrast in photographs is not a new problem.


Berenice Abbott, in a 1944 Popular Photography Magazine article, The Coming World of Photography, described the problem.

Abbott mentioned how you can't get the bright area of a scene, and the dark area, on the same photograph:

Latitude: A dark deep foreground should have as much tonality as a bright sky, without sacrificing one or the other.

Sixty-some years later, it's still a problem.

Here's an example.


The exposure was set for the sunny part of the scene.

The rafter's hats have shaded their faces.

Here are some possible solutions—that wouldn't have helped.

Possible Solution Why It Wouldn't Work

Use a reflector

Too far away

Use fill flash

Too far away

Use a more telephoto focal length, and fill the frame with just their faces.

1) Didn't have a telephoto zoom along

2) Wanted the raft in the photograph

Use spot metering to measure the light on their faces, and set the exposure for their faces.

Their faces would be well-exposed, but the rest of the scene would be washed out.

Come back on an overcast day when they light is less contrasty.

They wouldn't be there.

Move in closer with waders

Not with my expensive camera!

What Would Work?

Dodge their faces using one of the methods below, such as Overlay Layer.


Burning & Dodging Tools


The Photoshop Elements Burn and Dodge tools are little used.

That's because they change the pixels on the Background copy layer.

Once you dodge or burn on that layer, the editing is hard to modify or delete.

Yes, if you need to tweak a small area, do so with these tools.

In most situations, use the methods below to burn and dodge.

General Purpose: Overlay Layer

The method that most approximates traditional burning and dodging is the Overlay Layer method.

Also go to Using Selections.

Highlights & Shadows Only

If you need to burn and dodge only highlights or shadows, use the Method for Shadows or Highlights Only.

Large Expanses

If you need to burn and dodge a large expanse, such as a sky, use one of the two methods below.

Using these methods, you'll first make a darker version of your photograph.

Then, you'll combine part of this darker version with the original photograph.

Combine Two Exposures - Levels & the Eraser Tool

Combine Two Exposures - Levels & a Mask

Here's an arcane third method for large expanses.

You change the opacity of a selection.

Go to Multiple Opacities.

Many Small Areas

If you need to burn and dodge many small areas, such as a scene with dappled sunlight, use the Automatic with a B&W Negative Mask method.

Painting Overexposed Areas

If your photograph has overexposed areas, they need to be painted.

You can't darken them by burning.

Go to Painting Overexposed Areas.

Patterns for Burning & Dodging

You use the Multiply and Screen blending modes.

Go to Patterns for Burning & Dodging.

Selecting Tones

You can select a tone to manipulate.

Go to Selecting Tones Introduction.


Here the links to the tutorials.