Lightening and Darkening in Elements with Dodge and Burn Tools - dummies

Lightening and Darkening in Elements with Dodge and Burn Tools

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

The digital Dodge and Burn tools are a great deal more flexible and precise than darkroom work, where photographers used to salvage negatives containing areas that were too dark or too light by adding or subtracting exposure as an enlarger made the prints. With the Elements Dodge and Burn tools, you can specify the size of the tool and its softness by selecting one of the many brush tips available.

You can also limit the correction to a specific tonal range in your image — shadows, midtones, or highlights. You can adjust the degree of lightening and darkening applied by specifying an exposure percentage, too.

The Dodge (used to lighten) and Burn (used to darken) tools can be very effective, but you can’t add detail that isn’t there. Keep the following in mind:

  • When you lighten very dark shadows that contain little detail, you end up with grayish shadows.

  • Darkening very light areas that are completely washed out doesn’t make your image look very good, either. You’ll end up with white patches.

In either case, you want to use the Dodge and Burn tools in moderation and work only with small areas. To dodge or burn a portion of an image, just follow these steps:


  1. In the Photo Editor, in Expert mode, open an image with underexposed or overexposed areas and select the Dodge or Burn tool from the Tools panel.


    Press the O key to cycle among the Dodge, Burn, and Sponge tools.

  2. In the Tool Options, select a brush from the Brush Presets Picker drop-down panel and also adjust the brush size, if necessary.

    Larger, softer brushes spread the dodging-and-burning effect over a larger area, making blending with the surrounding area easier, creating a more realistic, natural appearance.

  3. In the Tool Options, under the Range drop-down menu, select Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights.

    Select Shadows to lighten or darken detail in the darker areas of your image. Choose Midtones to adjust the tones of average darkness. And select Highlights to make the brightest areas even lighter or darker.

    The original image had mostly dark areas, so the shadows were dodged. Note the increased detail in the eyes, teeth, and hair. A couple of swipes were given to the highlight areas with the Burn tool.


  4. In the Tool Options, select the amount of correction you want to apply with each stroke by using the Exposure slider or text box.

    Exposure is similar to the Opacity setting that you use with the regular Brush tool. Start with a lower percentage to better control the amount of darkening or lightening. High exposure values can overcorrect and produce unnatural-looking, obviously dodged or burned areas in your images.

  5. Drag or “paint” over the areas that you want to lighten or darken, gradually building up the desired effect.

    You can make a selection prior to your dragging to make certain that the adjustment is applied only to that specific area.

  6. If you go too far, press Ctrl+Z (Command+Z on the Mac) to reverse your most recent stroke.

  7. When you finish, choose File→Save to store the image.