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Burning & Dodging >

Painting Overexposed Areas

Here are all of the burning and dodging tutorials.

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The highlighted portion of the cloud above is overexposed, or, clipped.

In a larger version of the photograph, this bright area is distracting.

But, you can't burn it in, as you can see below.

The area around the overexposed area can be burned in, but not the overexposed area.




Burning Done - But No Darkening in the Overexposed Area

What can you do?

There are three solutions.

• You can use a Levels adjustment layer to change the output level (not the input value) from 255 to, say, 245.

However, the brightness of the entire photograph is shifted downward.

• You can use the Clone Stamp tool.

You sample an area that isn't overexposed, and clone (paste) it onto the overexposed area.

This may be the best solution if the overexposed areas are small.

• You can paint overexposed areas.

This is often the best solution, especially if the overexposed areas are large.

Checking for Overexposure

There are several ways you can check for overexposure.

With Your Camera

Your camera may display overexposed areas by blinking them on the LCD screen.

If you're camera displays histograms, overexposure has occurred when there's a vertical black line on the right end of the histogram.

With Photoshop Elements

Open the Histogram panel to check for overexposure.

In the Channel menu, select RGB.

If there's a vertical black line on the right end of the histogram, then a portion of your photograph is overexposed.


Overexposed areas have pixel values of 255.

You can look for pixels with values of 255.

Do the following.

1) Click the Color Picker tool.

2) Open the Info panel.

If the Info panel isn't in the panel bin on the left side of the screen, go to Window > Info.

3) Place the cursor on a suspected overexposed area.

If the the pixel values for R, G, and B are all 255, seen in the Info panel, the area is overexposed.


A portion of the cloud inside the red circle has pixel values of 255.

Let's paint this area.



• Select the overexposed area with a Threshold adjustment layer.

•  Paint it using a Levels adjustment layer.

Be sure to check off as you go along.


1) Preserve your original file.

If you haven't already done so, go to Preserve Your Original File.

2) Create a Background copy layer.

If you haven't already done so, go to Create a Background Copy Layer.

Threshold Adjustment Layer

3) Create a Threshold adjustment layer.


Background copy


The Threshold window will open.

The Threshold adjustment layer makes all of the pixels either white or black.

4) Move the white slider in the middle to select either the highlights or shadows.


In our example, we need to select the overexposed area in the middle of the clouds.

Below, the whiter slider was moved until the overexposed areas were white.


5) Click OK.

6) Use the Magic Wand tool to select the white areas.

Use a high enough tolerance to select the entire white area to its edges.

Deselect Contiguous in options bar/Tool Options.

By deselecting Contiguous, all of the white areas are selected.

If Contiguous is selected instead, only the white area that is clicked is selected.

7) Delete the Threshold adjustment layer by dragging it onto the trash can icon.

The marching ants of the selection remain.

8) Go to Select > Feather to feather the selection, if needed.

9) Create a Levels adjustment layer.



Background copy


The Levels window will open.

Now, you can change just the areas inside the selection.

If the areas weren't overexposed, you would adjust the highlight slider in the Levels window with the Input Level white triangle.

However, because the areas are overexposed, adjusting the highlight slider, an Input Level control, won't work.

Instead, change the white Output Level slider, not the white Input Level slider.

Here, the value was changed from 255 to 245.

Reduce the opacity of the layer.

The distracting bright area, more evident in a larger version of the photograph, has been dimmed.




Levels Output Adjustment

Instead of Levels

You could, instead of using a Levels adjustment layer, fill the selection using the Brush tool or the Paint Bucket tool.

Use an almost-white gray, and reduce the opacity.

Too Smooth?

10) If the painted area looks too smooth, add noise.

a) Make sure the marching ants of the selection are visible.

If not, go to Select > Reselect.

b) Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

Try an Amount of 2%.

Use the Uniform distribution to add noise evenly.

The distribution patterns are described below.


Random color noise


More color noise in the midtones, and less in the shadows and highlights


B&W noise only

Saving the Photograph

If you haven't already done so, go to Saving Files.