Dodge and Burn with the Adjustment Brush

Dodge and Burn with the Adjustment Brush

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom – Develop Module

Last month we explored how the different settings affect the Adjustment Brush. We also had a look at an example to use the Tool to change a flower’s color. Today we are continuing our investigations, and we will have a look at how to use the Adjustment Brush for a technique known as Dodge and Burn.

What is Dodge and Burn

When you are photographing landscapes, you might find that some areas in your photograph should have been darker or brighter. However your camera’s sensor or your film was not quite capable of recording this. In these cases an old darkroom technique called Dodge (brighten) and Burn (darken) can help you to improve your photograph. Dodge and Burn will also help you to prepare your photographs for print, as you have to consider that your printed image is automatically darker than the same photo on screen. The reason for this difference is simply that your monitor is backlit and your print is not.

If you are, like me, not a native English speaker the following might help you to remember which of the two is darkening and which is lightening your image.
Imagine you put some food on the grill. If you burn it, what color does your food take? If you do it for too long you get rather black (charcoal) food, so burning in post-processing does not mean to set your photograph on fire but to darken specific parts of it. Dodging therefore means lightening specific parts of your picture.

Dodging and Burning is applied in small increments. So you won’t increase your Exposure slider to +3EV, unless you want to ruin your image. However, if you use a value between -0.45 and +0.45 EV, you get the subtle changes that likely will improve your photograph, if you do it right. You can always add a second brush with the same values to some areas, to brighten/darken these more. Remember however, that brightening areas of an image too much increases the grain in these areas, which you cannot correct by darkening the same area afterward. Of course, as you have seen in the previous post about the Brush Tool, you can change your Brush settings after the fact as well.

Dodging with the Adjustment Brush

I am missing an element popping out in the photo below and guides the eye through the frame. However, brightening the white chamomille blossoms while leaving the rest of the image untouched could serve that purpose.

Original image with basic adjustments but no Dodging/Burning applied yet
Rhodope Mountains prior to Dogding

I don’t want to increase the brightness too much since that would potentially lead to a grainy section in the photograph. Setting the exposure slider to +0.46 should be just enough. I am generous for the brush’s size so that I don’t have to make too many delicate brushstrokes but can instead quickly brush over the flowers. So I select a Size of 16.2, 0 Feathering, 100% Flow, 100% Density, and disable the Auto Mask before brushing over the flowers. To bring out the clouds a little more, I use the same brush to paint over the sky.

Brush settings and effect for the Dodging
Brush Settings for the Dodging

The result looks like the following image.

Result of using the Adjustment Brush
Result of using the Adjustment Brush

As you can see, it looks like someone went over the field with a spray can. Of course, we could now start using the Erase Brush, carefully removing the Adjustment Mask from all the greens. However, it would be the most time-consuming approach with no guarantee for success.

Adjusting the Brush with a Range Mask

Instead, we are going to apply a Range Mask. This time we will opt for a Luminance Mask. This selection makes the following panel available in the Adjustment Brush Settings.

Initial Settins for the Luminance Mask
Inital settings of the Luminance Mask

You can enable Show Luminance Mask, which turns your photo into a greyscale image, brightest in the highest luminance and darkest areas where the picture is at its darkest. You can also use the eye-dropper tool to pick a luminance area directly in your photograph (or press and click, to select multiple luminance values).

However, since I have only masked a smaller area of my photo, I use the Range sliders to narrow my selection down. The Range slider’s left side affects your selection’s dark spots, and the right side affects bright parts. To specify a range of luminance values in the lighter area, I am moving the Range sliders’ left handle farther to the right until I can see my selection covering the flowers but not much if anything of the grass.

To further narrow my selection down, I am moving the Smoothness slider to the left. Moving the Smoothness slider to the right would widen my choice to areas close to the Range that I have chosen, while moving it to the right narrows it down.

Luminance Mask Settings
Luminance Mask Settings

While I am moving these sliders, I will look directly at the resulting photograph and not at the Selection Overlay or the Luminance Mask, making it easier for me to see when I am starting to change areas that I don’t want to be affected.

I quite like what I see, when I move the left Range Slider to a position of 89 and leave the right one in its initial place.

Final result of the Dodging Process
Final result of the Dodging Process

If you compare the final image with our starting image, you can see that the white flowers are more pronounced in the photograph, creating an excellent focal point for the watcher’s eye. Of course, you can also spot the effect in the clouds, which have gained a slight contrast boost as well.

Burning with the Adjustment Brush

I want to use two adjustment brushes in the next photo. For the lower two-thirds of the image, I want to use a burning adjustment restricted to the photograph’s darker areas. And then, I want to make some color changes to the brownish patch of grass in the middle right of the image.

Original Photo prior to using the Brush Adjustment Tool
Original Photo prior to using the Brush Adjustment Tool

As mentioned before, the “burn” in “dodge and burn” relates to the darkening of some parts of a photograph.

I am opening the Adjustment Brush by hitting on my keyboard. Of course, you could use the Tools -> Adjustment Brush menu entry or click with your mouse on the tool’s icon.

This time, I am setting the Exposure value to -0.46 in the Adjustment Brush’s settings, the brush’s size to 16.2, Feathering to 0, Flow and Density to 100%. I am disabling the Auto Mask.

Settings for my Burn-Brush
Settings for my Burn-Brush

I am painting over the lower two-thirds of the image with these settings to create the first selection.

Applied Burn-Brush (red Overlay)
Applied Burn-Brush (red Overlay)

Adding a Range Mask

Since I only want to darken the already darker areas in this area, I create a Luminosity Range Mask. This time the left most Slider of the Range Sliders stays in its initial 0-position, while I will move the right Slider. I could create a similar, if not the same, selection by using the eye-dropper tool. Still, I find it easier to use the sliders while activating the Mask Overlay to easily spot which areas will be affected by my modified brush.

Brush Overlay with Luminance Mask applied
Brush Overlay with Luminance Mask applied

My settings are 0/29 for the Range Mask. Since I am satisfied with the selection, and the preview, I leave the Smoothing Slider in its initial position of 50.

Improved Image after using the Burn Brush with the Luminance Mask
Improved image

Using a second Brush on top of the first

I still find the brownish patch in the middle right distracting. Therefore, I click on the word “New” in the Mask section of the Adjustment Brush’s settings to create a second brush.

The new brush has the same settings as the previous one. However, since I do not want to darken anything further, I move the Exposure slider back to its initial 0-position by double-clicking on the word “Exposure.”

Now I draw over the area that I want to adjust.

Overlay for the second Brush
Overlay for the second Brush

First, I disable the Mask Overlay to see if I get the desired effect with the changes I am about to make. Then I will adjust the Temp and Tint slider to change the brownish tone into something greener. I’ll start by moving the Tint slider farther to the left to convert reddish tones into greens. The settings I am satisfied with are -51 for Tint and +7 for Temp.

Settings for the White Balance Brush
Settings for the White Balance Brush

Will a Range Mask further improve the results?

However, these color temperature changes might affect other areas of my selection in a way that I don’t like. So once again, I am going to narrow down my selection by using a Color Range Mask. So let’s see what settings we need for that one.

I use the eye-dropper Tool of the Range Mask to pick the colors that I want to affect. However, after some forth and back, I found that I should not restrict my selection any further for a natural-looking result. So I am turning the Range Mask off again.

The final result for this photograph is shown in the figure below.

Final Result using one Brush to Burn and one to adjust the White Balance
Final Result using one Brush to Burn and one to adjust the White Balance

Or course, we could add a third brush to brighten the white flowers again, but I don’t think that this is necessary. Maybe, when I come back to this image tomorrow, I will feel differently about it or if I print it. However, we are working in a non-destructive way on RAW files, so more adjustments are possible.



All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “Dodge and Burn with the Adjustment Brush” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography/Wiebke Schröder.

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