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Photography and Photoshop Tutorials
HDR Burning and Dodging
Use a HDR photo stack and transparency masks to get excellent results with this burning and dodging like method.

By using over and underexposed frames as sources for burning in highlights and dodging shadows major gains can be made in tonality over using adjustment layers to lighten or darken areas.

This is because the shadows in the overexposed frame have a good range of digital densities because they are strongly “exposed to the right”. Highlights in the underexposed frame have full detail and density because they are in the top of the tonal range.


The contrast enhancement is due to the distribution of gray tones in a digital original. In 12 bit format where the peak highlight is 4096 the top 3 zones, V-VIII, account for the majority of the tones in an image. i.e. 2048 plus 1024 plus 512 = 3584 or 87% of the tonal range of the original.

By getting certain tone ranges into this digital sweet spot and then using them in your completed image they make detail happen where it would not with a regional adjustment layer or luminance mask type of burn. This can actually add detail to highlights and shadows where there is none in the normally exposed frame.

To set up for this you want to have a 3 frame HDR stack which is shot from a tripod with either 1 or 2 stops difference between the frames. One frame should be a normally exposed version of the scene. By normally exposed I mean as light as possible without the highlights blowing out.

Load the HDR stack and drag the layers all into a single file. You can make individual contrast adjustments in the RAW converter. If you hold Shift while dropping the layer on the master file it will be close to in registration.

There should be no background layer in the master file. If there is make it into a regular layer by double clicking on the background layer.


You can also do this by loading a file with two different settings in the raw converter. This is not as good as having the actual over and underexposed frames but it will help in a pinch.

Select all of the layers and do an Edit->Auto Align Layers to make the layers be as lined up as possible. There are often subtle variations that come from the tripod.

The over and underexposed frames are placed above the normally exposed frame and revealed by brushing white onto the black transparency masks.

Name the underexposed frame’s layer “Burn” and the overexposed frame’s layer “Dodge” this is because we want to add/darken highlights with the underexposed frame and lighten shadows with the overexposed frame.

Create a transparency mask filled with black on the frames that are over and under exposed.

  • Select the layer then press the Add Vector/Transparency Mask button at the bottom of the layers palette. A transparency mask is created for the layer.
  • Set the foreground and background colors to B&W on the Tools palette.
  • Hit Select->All then Delete and the mask should turn black. If not hit X to swap the fore and back colors and hit Delete again.

Select the Brush tool and pick a round brush with soft edges to use as a dodging tool.

Select the Burn layer and paint on the mask to burn in the highlights or select the Dodge layer and pain on its mask to lightened shadows. You need to avoid the areas that have out of range values in the over and underexposed frames.

This is a great way to condition the detail and tonal rendition of an image prior to luminance masking.

In the first example an over-exposed frame is combined with a normally exposed frame and the shadows are dodged out. This creates an interesting light in the dark areas because rather then having the shadow values become posturized and crunchy from brightening. In this case the tones are very supple due to their hard right exposure and the fact that brightening is not necessary.

The second example blends an underexposed frame over a normally exposed frame to add detail and tonality to the highlights.

Here are the HDR Burn and Dodge Examples...

Have fun!



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Web Site by Cooksey-Talbott Studio

Fine art photography of California by master nature photographer Cooksey-Talbott. Hundreds of beautiful photographs are displayed for sale online as raw or ready to hang images.

Cooksey-Talbott Gallery is an online gallery of nature photographs. The collection includes pictures of the High Sierra, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Yosemite, Trinity Alps, Sonora Pass, Santa Barbara Hills, East Bay Hills and Garin Park as well as hundreds of different waterfalls. Legacy images are from medium and large format film taken with the Mamiya RB-67 and a variety of 4x5 view cameras. Some of the more recent work is shot with a Nikon D200, Canon 5D Mark II and the Sony A7r.

We offer archival quality prints in a wide range of sizes and media. We print on a heavy art papers and canvas using a Canon iPF8300 44 inch 12 color printer with pigmented inks. Our images are first party prints made directly by the artist. Prints are signed and numbered and include a Certificate of Authenticity.

Ralph Cooksey-Talbott Thomas has been working as a photographer since 1972 when he moved to California from Michigan. During the 1970’s he studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite. Ansel published one of his photographs in the portfolio section of his book "Polaroid Land Photography" Ansel and Orah Moore, another of Ansel’s students, suggested that he shorten his name to Cooksey-Talbott, and that is the name he has worked under since. Cooksey also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the San Francisco Academy of Art. He has lectured in photography at the U.C. Berkeley Extension, Studio One in Oakland and Santa Barbara City College. Cooksey is currently working as a photographer and facilitating which is a monthly photo walk that meets up in Niles California.