Dodging & Burning has been around since photography began and that is a long time ago, even before Facebook or Instagram. The fact that Dodge & Burn is still being used in the digital darkroom is a testament to its effectiveness and a great reason why you could implement this editing style into your post-processing workflow.

Originally, Dodging & Burning was done manually. When a photographic print was being exposed the photographer could use their hand, or any other implement to stop light from hitting certain parts of the photograph as it was being exposed. The paper would be in a tray of chemicals with a light shining from above. This is called dodging as it affected the light areas of a photograph and made them lighter still.

To burn, the opposite was done. A photograph would be exposed correctly, then certain areas would have more exposure light applied to them in a targeted way, perhaps with a cut-out piece of card, hands, or anything which would let light be directed to particular parts of the photograph. This exposed those areas of the picture more, in turn darkening that spot, or ‘burning’ it.

Yeah yeah, let’s not get too old school, what’s the point anyway?

Some potential uses for dodge and burn include:

  • creating contrast in the image;
  • lighting highlights
  • darkening shadows
  • enhancing leading lines
  • creating space through light or dark
  • enhancing focal points

Perhaps the main point of Dodging &Burning is to emphasize the primary subject in your landscape photograph, or where the viewer’s eye should be led. Often when shooting landscapes there is a compositional device that leads the viewer’s eye to the subject. This could be anything such as a road, curved path, or river, which can be manipulated to be brighter or darker, helping the eye along to the main show piece – perhaps a mountain in the distance.

Recommended Reading: 5 Compositional Guidelines to Know in Landscape Photography

Similarly, the main focus area can be exaggerated by either lightening or darkening it, again to draw attention to that focal point of the image. So if it was a mountain with snow, light areas could be dodged and rocks burned in order to create contrast and strengthen the view.

A landscape photographer is often faced with relative chaos in front of them, which nature has offered up as a challenge. Dodging & Burning can help the viewer overcome nature’s hurdles by making it easier for their eyes to run smoothly throughout the image.

I’ve included some examples with before and after dodge/burn which has been exaggerated to show the effect. Often as landscape photographers and post processors, we want to create as natural an image as possible, so these effects should be seen as harmonious with the image, rather than interfere or create unrealistic light. Working with existing light is definitely smarter than battling what has been captured. Lightening shadows is one thing, but completely inverting a path might not be the best way to edit an image for example.

A Simple Technique to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

This is how I do 90% of my dodging and burning but there are several other ways of doing it as with everything in Photoshop. I find this fits into my workflow easiest but you may find another method that works better for you! I find it most productive to know what my objectives are from the outset.

  1. Duplicate the base layer. Set the new layer to Luminosity blend. This stops any oversaturation of the areas edited.
  2. Grab the dodge tool, set to around 5% Choose highlights
  3. Start dodging the pre-determined areas of the photograph which would benefit from lightning.
  4. Review as you go along, by clicking the visibility of the layer. If you have dodged too much, you can either undo or create a layer mask and selectively undo certain areas by painting with a black brush on the mask.
  5. If some of the areas are more midtone than highlight, you can change the tool to only affect the midtones in the dropdown menu. Same for shadows.
  6. Once you are happy with the layer, flatten it down. (This is how I work, you might prefer to keep it in layers of course).
A screen grab photoshop layout with menus for dodge burn

Now repeat for burning if required. Exactly as above but darkening any areas by using the dodge tool set to shadows, or also midtones (see the PS screengrab for the highlighted areas). The attached screen grab shows example settings in Photoshop as described above. These are definitely not fixed in stone but should be played around with and set appropriately for the image you are working with. Click the image to view the file larger.

An Alternative Method

A second Dodge and Burn method is to create a 50% gray layer that’s set to Soft Light or Overlay. You can do this by holding the option key on your keyboard and clicking the “Create a new layer” icon. Next, change the mode to Overlay or Soft Light and check the 50% gray box.

Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

Instead of using the Dodge or Burn tools, you will instead use a black or white paintbrush on your new layer. Make sure that the brush opacity is set to 5-10%.

Alternatively, you can create this later with one click by using the Photoshop plug-in Raya Pro.

The advantage of this technique is that it doesn’t require a merged layer, which is ideal for those who prefer a non-destructive workflow.


The powerful Dodge & Burn can subtly transform your landscape photos, creating some coherence in seemingly chaotic settings. We hope you find this article useful, please like, share, spread the word if you think anyone would find it useful. Dodging and burning can also be done in Lightroom, but we’ll look at that in another article, let us know if you are interested. Any comments below are also welcome. Cheers and happy editing.