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Article - Technical Term Explained

Burning and Dodging

Back before we had computers to edit photographs it had to be done in a darkroom. Early photographs were produced using a contact frame, so the image was the same size as the camera, and this is why when you look back there were large and small cameras. The enlarger is in effect a camera in reverse, a strong light projected through the negative and focused on the photographic sensitized paper. The head is pushed up, further from the paper when you want a larger print and brought near when you want a smaller one. The exposure has to be correct for the image to print correctly and the print is then developed in a temperature controlled chemical bath where like magic the image slowly appears, and then put into a stop bath to stop the action, then into a fixer to make the image permanent before being washed for some time to remove all chemicals, then dried and often put through a device to give it a shinny surface. The contrast was controlled by using several grades of photographic paper, and the print density (how dark it is) by the aperture and length of the exposure.

If you wanted an area in the image to be darker you needed to give that section a longer exposure and if you wanted to make a darker area lighter you held back a part of the exposure in that part. This was done by using a piece of card with a hole in it to allow the longer exposure for some parts and was called burning, while stopping some of the exposure was done by using your hands or pieces of card on a piece of wire, and was called dodging. In both cases you kept the item moving so as not to get a hard edge to the shape.

In the electronic darkroom, for example Photoshop you have the same effect with the dodging and burning tools, the burning tool waved over a part of the image makes it darker, burning in the detail, and the dodging tool has the opposite effect making the image lighter in the affected area, often showing more detail in shadow or dark areas.


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