Lightroom Dodging and Burning Tutorial

This is a simple tutorial on how you can utilize Lightroom tools to Dodge and Burn selective areas of a photograph to your liking without using Photoshop. During the process I will also go through some simple steps to show how you can enhance an image directly in Lightroom. I chose a sample portrait to show the process, because I often rely on Lightroom to do most of my post-processing work.

So, what is dodge and burn and where did these terms come from? Here is what Wikipedia says about it:

Dodging and burning are terms used in photography for a technique used during the printing process to manipulate the exposure of a selected area(s) on a photographic print, deviating from the rest of the image’s exposure. In a darkroom print from a film negative, dodging decreases the exposure for areas of the print that the photographer wishes to be lighter, while burning increases the exposure to areas of the print that should be darker.

The same technique can be used in digital photography to achieve similar results, although in Lightroom you can take the process even further by opening up shadows delicately and manipulating the exposure of certain parts of a photograph without ruining any details or colors. It goes without saying that working with RAW images gives a lot more opportunities to recover lots of details, as explained by Nasim in his RAW vs JPEG article.

Here is the before and after comparison of what I have done to demonstrate the Dodge and Burn capability of Lightroom:

before and after

NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2

The before image is straight out of the camera with no adjustments:

SOOC image

NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2

First, I started off with identifying what needs to be done with this photograph and made sketches directly on the image. This method may not be practical while doing batch editing in Lightroom, but could be a good practice when doing selective editing for publishing. Some editing can be done to your personal taste and liking, while some photographs need more careful technical editing. Either way, knowing what you want from a photograph is very important and generally you will develop this skill overtime. Experienced photographers and post-processing gurus typically know right away what needs to be fixed in a photograph, while inexperienced ones generally overlook even important problems. Here is the image with my sketches identifying areas that need to be addressed to my liking:

Main image with notes

NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2

And here is what each step stands for:

  1. Areas where darkening/burning is needed.
  2. Areas where lightening/dodging is needed.
  3. Areas where dodging/opening up shadows is needed to be performed separately using a new brush. The reason why I took this extra step is due to the way brushes work in Lightroom. In Photoshop you can set different strength for each stroke of a brush, while Lightroom cannot do that. Once you brush an area in Lightroom, you can only set a single value for the strength/opacity of a brush. If you need to set different opacity, you must add a new brush.
  4. Finalize/condition the overall look of the photograph.

To selectively dodge and burn the image, I used the Adjustment Brush:

Image of Brush Menu

Adjustment Brush has an “Effect” drop down. When selected, it will show the below menu, from which you can locate the Dodge (Lighten) and Burn (Darken) functions for your use:

Imate of Dodge and Burn location

First, I am going to use the Burn function and highlight where burning is needed. Brush tool marks the stroked area in red (masking), and in Develop Mode preview you can see the results of this action. I set “Exposure” to -0.49 and “Brush Feather” to 80. The size of the brush can be changed depending on the size of the area that you need to select.

After Burning

Once the above step is done to my liking, I hit Enter on my keyboard and click Adjustment Brush to Dodge the face of my model. Here, “Exposure” is set to 0.78:

Dodging the face

The next step is to work on the eyes, legs and deep shadow on the chair by using the same Dodging method as above. The only difference is, this time I set “Exposure” to 0.54:

eyes and shadows

As soon as I am done with Dodging and Burning the photograph I set the following values:

  • Contrast: +10
  • Blacks: -5
  • Clarity: +5
  • Vibrance: +10
  • Saturation: +5
  • Tone Curve: Medium Contrast
  • Green: Hue +24, Saturation -17
  • Image Sharpening: 30%
Final adjustments

Obviously, these values are what I picked to my liking for this particular image. Play around in Lightroom and choose what works best for your photograph.

And here is Before and After in full size:

SOOC image

NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2


NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2

Simple changes make huge differences, and that’s without leaving Lightroom!

See the next tutorial on how to fix the above model’s face color.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


  1. 1) JPanda
    May 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a useful tip! :D

    • 1.1) Lola Elise
      May 14, 2012 at 10:34 am

      You are more than welcome!

  2. 2) Matt
    May 12, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks, Lola! Can this be done in ACR?

    • May 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Matt, I apologize for a late response, not sure how I missed your comment.

      Unfortunately, ACR only provides limited functionality for the Adjustment Brush. So the custom effects shown above are not available…

  3. 3) Dxbluey
    May 13, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Nice tutorial on this process. Just a question – you explain that you are using the dodge or burn brush and then within that you use the exposure slider to increase or decrease the brightness or darkness in your mask selection.

    What is the difference between using simply the exposure brush rather then the dodge or burn brushes?

    By the way – so many great techniques and tutorials on your site – many thanks!

    • 3.1) Richard D
      May 13, 2012 at 10:19 am


      I’m no expert….I wanted to ask the same question. My take is that using the Dodge or Burn brush just gives you more flexibility. Perhaps you can set each of these to a certain amount for Dodging and Burning any time you use them, and then use the Exposure as a separate brush with perhaps a different amount.

      Again, I’m not expert, but that’s what my take is…..and would appreciate any other advice/comments from others!


    • May 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm


      I find it that using Darken and Lighten gives a little more precise results. Whereas, I end up having a slight halo around the area I am working while using the exposure slider only.

      • 3.2.1) gary
        April 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm

        Very informative i have been at odds with the halo on some images, i also have a overly blue cast at times is this white balance adjustment needed

  4. 4) Mark
    May 13, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Hi Lola,

    Would you please do a post on how you would tackle a family portraite session for processing?

    I am doing 4 possibly 5 family sittings at the weekend and the last time I did this the editing took me a long time.

    I understand this is short notice to pull it together for my session but it would be helpfull for the future.

    Great post as always

    Thanks Mark

    • May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Will do, Mark! I will try to write something up soon!

  5. 5) Callum
    May 13, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Nice tutorial – thanks Lola. I’m still exploring Lightroom and didn’t even know you could do this – now I know! It’s one of those things that is easier to do on Aperture, but I want to persevere with Lightroom as the level of control you get is higher (plus I don’t want to move all my photos over to Aperture!).

    Thanks again,

    • May 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Callum, thank you for checking it out! At times it is easier to keep things in one place.

  6. 6) James
    May 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

    Why not just use an incident light meter to get the correct exposure in the first place?

    • 6.1) Christobella
      May 14, 2012 at 2:12 am

      Oh come on. Tell that to sports/action shooters, wedding shooters taking candids in different directions every 3 seconds, or people just taking shots of their fast-moving kids. It simply isn’t practical to fart about with light meters in those situations, and that’s where the techniques alluded to in this tutorial are sometimes invaluable.

    • May 18, 2012 at 5:09 am

      What are you talking about? The exposure in the original photo is correct, but a bit contrasty with deeper than desired shadows – how would an incident light meter help the situation?

  7. May 13, 2012 at 2:24 am

    James. If it were always that easy! As the image was captured outdoors the light can vary a great degree from second to second, let alone minute to minute. In the old world of chemicals and dark rooms it was a fiddly (but often fun) way to enhance an image with dodge and burn, with the digital darkroom Nasim has demonstrated what a powerful tool Lightroom is and can make the difference between a keeper and the re-cycle bin.

    Well done Nasim on yet another great article, keep ’em coming please.


  8. 8) Eric Lu
    May 13, 2012 at 2:45 am

    OMG! The model’s face is just too pale… just compare her face to her neck… The make up just horrible

    • May 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      Exactly! Good job noticing it. At first I wanted to incorporate fixing the face color into this article. That’s why I chose this image to begin with. But at the end I thought the tutorial ended up being longer than I anticipated and didn’t quite fit into the “dodging and burning” process. So, I decided to separate it. The other article will come out soon!

      • 8.1.1) Eric Lu
        May 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

        Cool, I am looking forward to your next article.

  9. 9) Srini
    May 13, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Thank you. This is very useful.

  10. May 13, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Nadim, a question please.

    When you say “First, I am going to use the Burn function and highlight where burning is needed. Brush tool marks the stroked area in red (masking)”. My Lightroom 4 doesn’t mark it in red, it goes straight to the action of lightening or darkening. How do I switch it to the mask to this function please as it’s not the same as photoshop CS5?


    • 10.1) Richard D
      May 13, 2012 at 10:16 am


      If I understand your question, in the Develop mode, below the image and to the left, is a box to check. That box says “Show Selected Mask Overlay.” If you check it, any edits you have made with the brush tool will show in red.

      Richard D

      • May 19, 2012 at 3:22 am

        Hi Richard.

        Profuse apologies for not replying earlier, but I thought any replies and I would receive an e-mail as I had checked the box! Yes, you are quite correct and I should have noticed the “auto mask” box. Thanks for your input.

        Richard W

        • Richard
          May 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm

          Hi, Richard…..back at you!

          I also thought any replies would send me an email…..I only saw your reply when I got back into this site and looked at the comments!

          Oh, well.

          Glad I was able to help!


  11. 11) Barry
    May 13, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Hi Lola, thank you for your great tutorial !! I must ask you when you shoot with d700 and D3S what initial Raw profile do you set for both in Lightroom?, Is it adobe standard or one of the camera profiles ? I ask because I shoot portraits of my kids and family and would love to get the same look overall look and skin tone you get with your brilliant wedding work.

    Any advice on best settings for skin tones would be most kind…
    Thank you so much for your help your a Star!


    P.S a tutorial on portrait sharpening and also best NEF noise reduction settings in Lightroom would also be great !

  12. 12) deana
    May 13, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Great advice… will try to figure it out in Photoshop!

  13. May 13, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Great tip here. Thanks you for your help

    jack mitchelll

  14. 14) gus
    May 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Very nice Tutorial Mansurov!

    One question, how do you bring up the “pink” color in the brush so to know where the effect has been applied? Is there a key we need to press for that?


    • 14.1) gus
      May 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      I’m sorry just saw the above comment and found the “Show mask overlay” button!

      Great tute again!

  15. 15) shashikant dabade
    May 14, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Sir I am interested in Nikon D7000 DSLR. Kindly intimate the most suitable lenses for -1)wild life, 2) Action,3) landscape 4) Portrait photography which can be the best replacements for the kit lens or is there any single lens which can serve all the purposes mentioned above?.

    • 15.1) Shawn
      May 14, 2012 at 7:26 am


      I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but this is like asking “what is the best food on earth”; everyone thinks it’s something different and few people agree what is the best. Anyone who answers otherwise is full of themselves, or fooling themselves.

      Only you will find the best answer to this question, no one can tell you the “right” answer. For example, I enjoy my 35mm f/1.8G lens so much that I never take it off my camera, and I use it for lots of portraits of my family. I’ve been told many times “you can’t do that”. Well guess what, I just did it, and it looks awesome. Lots of people will tell you to only use wide angle lenses for landscapes, but I’ve seen plenty of great and very original landscape shots with medium and telephoto lenses.

      The best way you can answer this question for yourself is to learn exposure and learn your camera. First learn about f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO, the effects of: focal length, aperture, and focus distance on your pictures, and how autofocus and depth-0f-field work.

      Next look at other people’s pictures, ones you like (don’t look at great “art” unless you like it). See what they used to get the results that you find pleasing. This will give you an idea of the tools that you might want to use.

      This combined with an inside-out understanding of your camera will equip you with everything you need to start making these kinds of decisions.

      Even when you do start picking lenses, you will be wrong. You’ll learn something about yourself or your style that will make you want a different lens instead.

      Sorry, there is no hard fast answer, and there are no “right” answers.

      • 15.1.1) Art Griffin
        May 28, 2012 at 1:24 pm

        get a used d700 and a 70-200mm f2.8 and 24-70 f2.8, It will probably cost a lot more than the d7000 but its well worth it.

        or you could go cheap and get the 70-300 VR which is not worth the 500 imho.

        • Richard
          May 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm

          I’d agree with this recommendation, although I own neither lens. I currently have a D200 and looking to upgrade. The D700 and D800 possibly will be the next body I buy, although I’m still not discounting the D7000. I just like the more professional cameras because I use them a lot for various things.

          As far as the lenses, while I do not own either of the 2 you mentioned, I have rented each of them before, the 70-200 f/2.8 with VR more often. I’ve rented this one to do sporting events…’s a very good lens…..nice, fast, bright. It works very well with the Continuous focus mode I use when shooting things like marathons.

  16. 16) FR
    May 14, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Great Post Lola!

  17. 17) Per
    May 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Lola,

    Great tutorial!
    I use Lightroom for exclusively for all my work and only use Photoshop if absolutely necessary.

    I may misunderstand something but if I understand this correct, I don’t agree 100% in the statement:
    “Once you brush an area in Lightroom, you can only set a single value for the strength/opacity of a brush. If you need to set different opacity, you must add a new brush.”

    You can change Brush Size, Feather, Flow , Auto Mask and Density without adding a new brush, and changes on these will not influence on areas you already have “painted” with that brush. If you have “painted” too much in an area you can hold down the ALT-key (on PC) and remove some of it again. The Size, Feather etc. are also available while removing so you can do it to your liking.
    Only moving the (Effect) sliders within the Brush section, will change all that brush’s “painted” areas simultaneously.

    Thanks Lola.

    • 17.1) Lola Elise
      May 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Per, thanks for the tip! I will definitely try it out and if that’s the case (If it works for you, I am sure it is!) I hope you will not mind me adding your comment to the article.



      • 17.1.1) Per
        May 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm

        Hi Lola,

        I’m glad if you can use the info. You are most welcome to use it in the article.

        I’m a bit addicted to Lightroom, and I find the latest version (4) so close to what I need that I almost
        never use Photoshop. I have never really been happy working with PS, even though I started there.
        The more i use LR the more I appreciate it, and a lot have changed to the better since first version – fortunately :-)


  18. May 15, 2012 at 1:40 am

    Thanks for sharing.



  19. 19) Lisbeth
    May 15, 2012 at 4:32 am

    Thank you for a great tutorial!
    I too try to make everything in Lightroom.
    I got a tip about colour adjustment: Instead of increasing saturation, I should try to reduce the gray. But I can’t figure out how to do it in Lightroom. (I did it in Photofiltre where it’s dead easy to do). It gives a very natural colour and clearness in the picture. Is it not possible to do in Lightroom? And could there be a reason for Adobe to leave it out of Lightroom?

  20. May 15, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Hi Lola,

    This is very informative.
    are you aware of “Dragan style portrait effect (Lazlo effect)”.

    I found some some articles on Dragan style portrait effect (Lazlo effect):

    I found the information scattered and also not comprehensive and easy to understand.

    Can you/Nasim please write an article on Dragan style portrait effect (Lazlo effect) as all the articles at mansurovs are simple and easy to understand. I think the article would be really helpful for us in retouching of our portraits.


    • 20.1) Shawn
      May 15, 2012 at 9:36 am

      I think you can probably do most of this in Lightroom (either 3 or 4). I went through the article on and saw that most of the effects have Lightroom equivalents.

      The Dragan/Lazlo “effect” appears to me to be massive amounts of contrast applied then a smidge of correction for areas that are too bright or dark (just as this tutorial on Mansurovs goes over).

      There are probably 5 or more different ways to get this effect in Lightroom, but these would be my “off-the-cuff” choice of tools:
      Increase contrast (many different ways): Blacks, Contrast slider, Curves adjustments, Clarity slider
      Reduce saturation: Vibrance slider, Saturation slider
      Sharpening: Lots of options for selective sharpening of edges are available in LR3 & 4
      Burn & Dodge: Adjustments brushes in LR3 & 4

      It should be pretty easy, once you figure it out maybe you can write a tutorial for us! :)

  21. 21) Harv.!
    May 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    If you want to find out how intricate and detailed Dodging and Burning can become have a look at this Richard Avedon test print from 1981, with Avedon’s instructions to his printer
    The good thing about the digital darkroom is that you can easilly fix any mistakes with the undo button and layers, in a normal darkroom it meant throwing the print in the bin and starting over…something I did on many occasions, lol.

  22. 22) Barry
    May 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Lola,

    Thank you for your great tutorial !! I must ask you when you shoot with d700 and D3S what initial Raw profile do you set for both in Lightroom?, Is it adobe standard or one of the camera profiles ? I ask because I shoot portraits of my kids and family and would love to get the same look overall look and skin tone you get with your brilliant wedding work.

    Thanks again


  23. 23) TJ
    May 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Good tutorial.

    Is it just me or does it appear to others that her head has been pasted onto her body?

  24. May 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Thanks for this great tutorial! I find that I am using Lightroom almost exclusively now. Would you please consider doing a tutorial on how to blur foreground or background using Lightroom 4? Thank you

  25. 25) Zaman Khan
    May 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Great tutorial on the “HOW TO” But the final product looks awful. For some reason it already looks like her face is painted white compared to the rest of her, but after the effect it looks even worse, it literally looks like someone did a bad Photoshop face transplant. I love the extra punchy contrast and darkening of the other areas but i cannot, no matter how hard i try just get away from the face. I don’t know what it is, if its the makeup or too much dodging and burning but something just isn’t right. I think a properly placed reflector would do wonders for the image.

  26. March 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I
    get several e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

  27. 27) Melissa
    March 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Great article- very helpful!!

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