Burningin and Dodging

Burning-in is to selectively darken a specific area of a print by adding extra light after the initial exposure.

A print may have good overall density and contrast, but still have areas that are either too bright or too dark. Burning-in is a technique used to darken a specific area of a print by selectively adding exposure. Dodging is a technique to lighten a specific area of a print by selectively holding back exposure. Most prints require some burning-in and/or dodging for best results.

Burning-in and dodging are critical fine-tuning steps—often making the difference between an adequate print and an excellent one. With some prints, you only have to burn-in or dodge one area to produce a satisfactory print. But be patient: it's not uncommon to have to burn-in and dodge multiple areas.

Burning-in. To understand burning-in, imagine a well-exposed print made at f/11 at 10 seconds with a #3 filter. Once developed, the print may show good overall density and contrast, yet have an upper left corner that is too light. You can make that corner darker without affecting the overall brightness of the rest of the print by making another print with the same settings, then adding extra exposure only to the area that needs darkening.

Follow these instructions to burn-in an area of a print:

1. Place a fresh sheet of printing paper in the easel, and expose it for the time needed to produce a good print—in the above example, f/11 at 10 seconds (with a #3 filter).

2. After the paper has been exposed, hold a piece of cardboard or other opaque mask just under the lens. Examples of other masks include a book, a notebook, your hand, or a commercially made burning-in tool; do not use a piece

Print Contrast

Variable-contrast papers give you a lot of control over print contrast—the difference between the highlight and shadow areas. If a print made with a #2 filter is too gray (upper left), increase contrast by making a new print with a #3 filter (upper right). On the other hand, if a print made with a #2 filter has too much contrast (lower left), decrease contrast by making a new print with a #1 filter (lower right).

#2 filter

#3 filter

#2 filter

#3 filter

#2 filter

#1 filter

#2 filter

#1 filter

Summary: Print Processing

These are times and capacities for standard print processing. They are intended as guidelines only and vary according to the brands used, dilution, and other conditions of use. Times and capacities also vary depending on whether you use RC or fiber-based (FB) papers.





2-3 min (FB papers)

Agitate constantly; dilute according to manufacturer's instructions; develop for at least the minimum recommended time.

50-100 8"x10" prints (or equivalent) per quart of working solution.

Stop bath

15-30 sec (RC papers) 30 sec-1 min (FB papers)

Agitate constantly; dilute according to manufacturer's instructions.

50-75 8"x10" prints (or equivalent) per quart of working solution.


3-5 min (RC papers) 5-10 min (FB papers) About half these times with a rapid fixer.

Agitate constantly; do not overfix.

40-60 8"x10" prints (or equivalent) per quart of working solution.

Water rinse

5 min (FB papers)

Not needed with RC papers.

Not applicable.

Fixer remover

2-3 min (FB papers)

Not needed with RC papers.

50-75 8"x10" prints (or equivalent) per quart of working solution.

Holding bath

For the length of the printing session, or until the bath is filled with prints.

Keep fixed prints in bath until ready to proceed to final wash.

Change water every 15-30 min or so.

Final wash

5-10 min (RC papers) 20-30 min or longer (FB papers treated in fixer remover)

Agitate; make sure wash water is constantly changing; don't wash more than 15-20 prints at a time; time varies with the effectiveness of the wash.

Not applicable.

*The following are approximately equal to 50-100 8" x 10" prints: 100-200 5" x 7' and 12-25 16" x 20" prints.

prints; 25-50 11" x 14" prints;

Keep the mask in motion as you burn-in or dodge.

Bad burning-in example: page 207

of paper, as paper will let some light through. Take care that you don't accidentally bump the enlarger or move the easel while positioning the mask.

3. Turn on the enlarger and burn-in by moving the mask so the projected light falls only on the area of the paper that needs darkening—in this example, the upper left corner. Burn-in exposure times vary widely; you might start by using the same amount as the initial exposure—here, 10 seconds.

Move the mask back and forth slightly but keep it in constant motion to blend the additional exposure into the rest of the image; otherwise the burn will leave a noticeable line. In practice, parts of the image adjacent to the burned-in areas often receive additional exposure, but if blended correctly, this should not appreciably affect the overall look of the print.

4. Process the print. The results should show the same overall density and contrast as the initial print, but with a darker upper left corner. If the corner still looks too light, make another print and burn in for a longer time; if it's too dark, burn in for less time.

The amount of burning-in can be moderate or considerable. To darken an area moderately, try a burn of 30-50 percent of the initial exposure (3-5 seconds more exposure for an initial exposure of 10 seconds). If the area needs more significant darkening, burn-in for at least 100 percent of the initial exposure time (a 10-second burn for a 10-second initial exposure). And don't be surprised if very bright areas, such as overcast skies, require burning-in for three or four times the initial exposure (30-40 seconds more for a 10-second initial exposure)—or even longer.

If the area to be burned-in is along the edge of the image, you can use just an opaque mask to do the job. If the area is in the middle of the image, however, you will need an opaque mask with a hole cut in the center. Let light project through the hole to the areas of the print that need darkening. You can use a commercially made burning-in tool, or you can make your own with a piece of cardboard, and punch out the hole yourself. Make several such tools, each with a hole of a different size and shape.

You can vary the size of the projected beam of light either by stocking several masks, each with different-size holes, or by varying the position of the mask under the enlarger. Lifting the mask up toward the lens makes the circle of projected light broader, while bringing it down toward the easel makes it narrower. If you position the mask close to the easel, be sure it is large enough so that light doesn't spill over and accidentally expose the edges and corners of the paper.


After establishing the correct overall print density and contrast, you may have to selectively darken one or more specific areas of the image, a technique called burning-in. Here the print on the left, exposed for 10 seconds, looks good except for an area along the top that is too light. A second print was made, again at 10 seconds, but an additional 10 seconds was added only to the top area to darken it.

To burn-in an area in the middle of your image, use an opaque piece of cardboard with a hole punched out to let in additional light to expose the paper in selected areas.

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