Dodge and Burn

Recently Thomas Heaton posted a video about he has now focuses on local editing rather than global sliders when processing his images in Lightroom. It creates a new way of thinking when manipulating your images and seems like a bit of a throw back to the way film photographers would dodge and burn in order to lighten or darken parts of the image to emphasize the subject.


Screen shot of Konrad Eek performing a traditional dodging technique (source:

I’m no expert on the historical techniques of dodging and burning but with the advent of the digital camera and computer processing, with programs like Lightroom, the technique has become much easier. What I’ve learned though is that without the understanding of the techniques it doesn’t matter how easy it is because you won’t even know that you should apply them.

I consider myself rather tech savvy but I will readily admit that Lightroom has a steep learning curve. There is so much control and power at your finger tips that it’s hard to know where to begin. Over the years I focused on specific areas of photography (e.g. camera controls, composition, background control, global processing) and when I felt comfortable with one area I moved on to the next. Each step gave me another tool to put in my toolbox.

What I rarely do though is revisit older photographs after the photo was originally processed to add what I’ve learned. However, there are times when the right need comes up and I want to share an older photo. Sometimes I’m lazy and I share it as is but recently I came upon a photo and decide to take the time to reprocess it, applying what I’ve learned.


Lily Pond (Nikon D3200, 35mm, f/9, ISO 1600, 1/250 sec, handheld, RAW) – original processing

Edge distraction, blown highlights, having the subject be the brightest part of the image, and conversely reducing the brightness of other supporting elements; these are some of the concepts that I now understand better and can apply but were just too advanced for me at the time. That’s not to say they are difficult concepts but sometimes you can only focus on so many things at once, especially when you’re learning.

Learning from folks like Thomas Heaton, Pablo Inirio or Ansel Adams you begin to understand that local adjustments are the key to producing a great print. Take a look at the image above. Pablo Inirio made extensive notes on how to process the image in the dark room. Ansel Adams did the same and sometimes printed his images over and over until he got it just right. I tried to apply those techniques to a photo that I took back in 2016 at the Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey. Here are my notes on the digital dodging and burning that I did.


Upon revisiting the image I realized the bridge should be the main subject. The lilies and water should lead your eye to it. But the bright group of lily pads in the foreground was stealing all the attention. In addition, the bridge itself faded into the background due to the natural lighting of the scene.


Lily Pond (Nikon D3200, 35mm, f/9, ISO 1600, 1/250 sec, handheld, RAW) – updated processing

Based on those adjustments, as well as a few others, I came up with essentially another print. Luckily in the computer it’s as easy as just exporting another version of the image. The dark room masters had to dedicate a lot more time and energy to the process. Overall the image is far from perfect but also less jarring than the original. The mid-day, clear sky lighting made it difficult but I think we can agree that the new image is improved.

Here are the two images together (click on either image to launch the slideshow mode). You can jump back and forth between the two for a better grasp of the improvements. You’ll notice the image does seem to bend from one to the next and that is because I failed to use the lens correction on the original image (another step I learned along the way). Something you can do is squint while looking at each image. See where your eye goes when it’s slightly out of focus. That will help you understand better where the lighting directs your eye. Does it take you to the your intended subject or somewhere else?

Similar to my other blog posts this is a bit of snap shot of my growth as a photographer. In no way do I consider myself an expert. My goal is to share the things I have learned in hopes that they will be helpful, educational or just entertaining. My photography and my writing are both an exercise for me. Their fundamental goal is to take me out of my comfort zone and push me to do something I’m not inherently comfortable with.