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Photoshop 101 - Burn, Dodge and Sponge Tools

More art-working tools that come straight from the darkroom to Photoshop. You can use these to fine tune your images and correct malformed exposure.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Table of contents

Straight from the darkroom

These tools come straight from the darkroom floor where the development process could be tweaked using techniques to change the exposure to the surface of the photographic paper. Before we look at the tools lets examine the darkroom techniques to get an idea.

Understanding that more light means darker and less lighter is just how the tools work. Let’s start with the dodge tool.

The shortcut for all of these tools is O

Dodge tool - Making selected areas lighter

The Dodge tool is really a post production tool. If you aren’t happy with how the exposure turned out on your photo you can use the Dodge Tool to increase it. Select your brush and you then have three options: shadows, midtones and highlights. The tool will target the tone that you choose. Finally set your exposure. This controls how intense the effect is.

Using the Dodge tool you can easily increase the exposure of photos. In the following example the left edge of the picture has been lightened using the Dodge tool. The range was set to midtones and the exposure at 50%. The effect is slight but compensates for the overexposure of the left hand side.

Example of using the Dodge Tool

The Burn Tool - the same in reverse

The Burn Tool is really the inverse of the Dodge Tool. Instead of compensating for overexposure it allows you to darken areas that have been underexposed.

Sponge Tool - Adjusting Saturation

When you adjust saturation you adjust the strength of a colour. With the sponge tool you paint with a brush to either increase the saturation of decrease it. In the following example we have a beautiful photo by Barbara Rich. Using the sponge tool we are going to bring out the colours a little more by saturating them. Specifically the boat and the sky have been “sponged” to saturate the colours in these areas. Conversely if you wish to tone down colours select desaturate.

Example of the Sponge Tool

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