Lightroom adjustment brush

How to use the Lightroom adjustment brush tool to dodge and burn your colour shots

Dodging and burning was a standard darkroom technique for black and white photographers, but it works just as well on colour shots. ‘Dodging’ is where you lighten selected areas of the image and ‘burning’ is where you darken them. With the Lightroom adjustment brush tool this is really easy to do, and you can control much more than just the brightness level.

Lightroom adjustment brush

I’m going to try this out on a shot I used a few weeks back for a tutorial on Aperture watermarking tools. It’s a nice shot of an idyllic country cottage, but the sky is a little pale and the near side of the cottage is in shadow. It’s the ideal candidate for dodging and burning because it needs subtle, local adjustments applied carefully.

01 Adjustment Brush options

Lightroom adjustment brush

First of all, you’ll need to select the Adjustment Brush took (1) at the top of the tools panel in the Develop module. Underneath you’ll see sliders for the adjustment properties – I’m just going to reduce the Exposure value, and I can add other adjustments later if I need them. At the bottom of the panel you’ll see the Brush settings (3). I’ve set the Feather value to maximum to give me a soft-edged brush which will blend in the adjustments more subtly. You can adjust the brush size using the slider in this section, but it’s easier to use the square bracket shortcut keys to reduce (‘[‘) or increase (‘]’) the brush size. Finally you can start painting over the area you want to adjust with the brush tool (4).

02 Erasing adjustments

Lightroom adjustment brush

You may find you inadvertently paint over areas you wanted to leave alone – here, I think I’ve come too far down over the cottage with my adjustment. To fix this, you can select the Erase option (circled) and brush over the areas you want to restore. If you simply want to reduce the effect instead of removing it, reduce the Flow value (also circled).

03 Lightening the wall

Lightroom adjustment brush

Now I want to have a go at lightening the near side of the cottage, which is currently in shadow. To add a new adjustment, click the ‘New’ button at the top of the panel. This time, I’m increasing the exposure value, and I’m ready to start painting…

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