If this dramatic title wasn’t enough to draw your attention, our special guest appearance in this post will definitely do the trick. Just under a year ago we photographed one of the most extravagant weddings our studio has yet to encounter that featured an incredible guest performance by the one and only, John Legend.

Using one of the images captured from the event, we will show you exactly how to manipulate a photo with dodging and burning along with other local area adjustments in Lightroom to compensate for unbalanced lighting, and completely transform your imagery.

Why Dodge & Burn?

1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 3200, Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II at 70mm
1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 3200, Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II at 70mm

The stakes were high when we found out that John Legend was going to be serenading the couple at their wedding reception, and loads of guests and security guards hindered us from getting the perfect shot of the superstar and the couple in one image, but somehow we fought our way around and found this brilliant angle.

Upon initial glance, the image proposes one major concern for post production: the stage lights on John overpower the ambient light and therefore take the focus away from our couple. Now, shooting in RAW definitely gives us leeway in post to bring up the darker areas to rework the image and arrive at a more balanced exposure, however, there is a fair amount of fine-tuning that needs to be done to completely shift our focal point.

Working in Lightroom’s Basic Panel


Balancing the exposure is our first step in going in the right direction. When we adjust exposure to bring out the couple from the darkness of the crowd we arrive at an even ambient toning. Using the White Balance Picker, find a neutral gray point to determine an accurate color temperature and tint for the scene.

No off-camera flashes were used to fill in the lack of light in the room and therefore the image was shot to have a greater dynamic range to work with in post. We wanted to preserve the overall highlights and whites which, in turn, reduces overall contrast. Simply use the Clarity slider to do add contrast back into the image, adjusting the Shadows and Blacks where necessary. In our Lightroom Crash Course workshop we spend a great deal of time covering the Basic Panel and explain why and how increasing via the Contrast slider affects the image as a whole.

Refining Detail and Noise


The side effect of shooting at such a high ISO means that we welcome an uninvited guest to our post production party: grain. In an image like this, when we are trying our best to work with the shadows we managed to preserve, increasing the Luminance to reduce Noise gives us a smoother final image.

Split Toning

Making minute adjustments to the hue of our Highlights brings warmth back into the image without modifying the temperature overall. We are developing this image primarily to accentuate the couple, and this is our last step of editing the shot as a whole before we attack smaller sections of the photo.

Using Graduated Filters to Burn


The main goal of producing an image like this is to mirror what the scene looked like in actuality, not over do it so the lighting looks artificial. This is achieved through the art of dodging and burning.

Let’s take, for example, the higher third of this image that’s brightly lit by the chandeliers in the reception hall. By pulling down a .5 exposure burn-gradient from the top portion of the image, the eye is immediately drawn to the couple. As you can see, this graduated filter cuts through John Legend’s handsome face, bringing up the idea of ‘too much burn’ – we would see that strong highlight on his temple fade to gray if we decreased our exposure even further.


The most apparent adjustment that should be made using a graduated filter is the flare on the left from the stage lights’ reflection on the piano. This is clearly the brightest area of this image and draws the focus away from the center. Dragging an exposure burn graduated filter from left to right that still boosts Highlights and Whites prevents us from attaining the previously mentioned gray effect.

Local Adjustment Brushes To the Rescue


As of now, John is still the star of this image (for more reasons than one), so how do we go about toning down the stage lights without affecting the overall brightness of the shot? We can target the brightness by using a local adjustment brush to burn down the exposure, highlights, and whites. Doing so reduces the overall and mid-tone contrast in the selected portion which we can add back in with the Clarity and Contrast sliders. Using the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets System we can easily target areas with customized increments in a matter of seconds.


A great way to gauge whether or not you’ve gone overboard with your adjustments is to head to Grid Mode (by pressing G) to view the image on a smaller scale to see what highlighted portions pop out that normally wouldn’t.


The key to precision here is to feather your brush, set it to 100 on the slider, and make sure that you haven’t tampered too far with your adjustments to make the overlay blatantly visible. The beauty of local adjustments is in their ability to target specific areas of an image, nonetheless, you need to be aware of which areas are being affected. That small little gap between the microphone and his arm is a prime example of failing to pay attention to detail – toggle your overlay mask by pressing ‘O’ to see which areas you have painted over mistakenly.


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