How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom: Architecture Real Estate Photos

Dodging and burning are key skills for any photographer and it’s particularly useful for architectural photography and real estate photos. In this article, I’m going to show you in particular how to adjust and fix up grey looking ceilings and make them much brighter and more appealing.

I’ll also look at adjusting some of the other areas of the photo too.

At the end of this article is the youtube version of this article if you prefer to watch the video.

How to Dodge and Burn in Ligthroom - Architecture and Real Estate Photos

Where Did Dodging and Burning Come From?

First of all, a bit of background. Dodging and burning comes from the days where photos were “printed” from film in a darkroom. They weren’t really printed actually.

The developed film was placed in an enlarger, which is a piece of equipment a little like a projector. Light was then shone through the negative and onto light-sensitive photo paper producing the photo.

What is Dodging and Burning?

Dodging and burning is a way to lighten and darken areas of the photo. Dodging was done by blocking the light hitting the paper creating a lighter area on the photo and burning allowed more light to hit the paper creating a darker area.

We may not use film anymore but the names have remained the same and we can go about this digitally in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Why Would You Dodge and Burn?

If you’ve shot architecture and real estate photos before you’ll already know the ceilings will often come out looking grey instead of white. They tend to look dull and bring the whole image down.

You may also notice that other parts of the picture can look underexposed or overexposed. That’s because the camera’s sensor isn’t able to cope well with extremes of dark and light in a given scene.

Dodging and burning allows you to lighten up the dark areas and darken the areas of the photo which are too bright bringing a much more pleasing and professional look to your images.

In this article, I’m going to show you exactly how you can use Lightroom to dodge and burn ceilings and make your pictures look awesome.

How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom Before and After Photo

The image that I’m using in this example is a photo of a canteen that I shot for a client. In the picture above, the image of the left is how it came out of the camera.

Before you start dodging and burning you need to get your photos looking good first.

In the example above, the image on the right shows the adjusted image. I’ve corrected the white balance, corrected lens distortion (something that Lightroom does automatically for you) and I also played with the exposure, highlights and shadows and the tone curve to get the exposure as close as possible.

Using the Dropper to Correct the White Balance - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
Use the white balance dropper to correct the white balance first.
Making Lightroom Adjustments - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
Adjust  the exposure, highlights, shadows, blacks, whites and tone curve before dodging and burning.

Step-by-Step Guide to Dodging and Burning in Lightroom

If you’re not familiar with it, Lightroom is software from Adobe and is similar in some respects to Photoshop but is a lot easier to use. It doesn’t have the same level of control that Photoshop does but is great for basic edits, especially for architecture and real estate photography.

I really like the flexibility that Lightroom gives me and it allows me to remove any unwanted features of my photos with relative ease.

Here’s exactly how you can dodge and burn the ceilings of your images on Lightroom:

Step 1. First up, open your image in Lightroom. Head over to the tool bar and click on the adjustment brush tool. You will then receive a drop-down list with a number of options.

Selecting the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
To start dodging and burning, first select the “Adjustment Brush” in Lightroom.

Step 2. The next step is adjust the brush settings for dodging or burning. I’ve created a preset for both dodging and burning so I don’t need to add the settings each time.

How to Create a Lightroom Preset for Burning (Makes Things Darker – reduces highlights)

The goal of this burning preset is to reduce the highlights and make the bright areas of the photo darker.

Here’s how to do that:

Click on the brush tool.

By using the sliding bars, adjust the highlights, shadows, exposure, the flow, and feathering to your desired level.

It helps to first brush an area of the image to see what the effect is doing. Test the effect as you go and make adjustments until you find the right level of effect.

General Settings for burning:
Exposure: – 0.5
Highlights: -25
Feather: 30-50
Flow: 30-40

Step 3. When you’re happy with the settings, save your settings as a new preset as shown in the images below. 

Saving a Preset in Lightroom - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
Use the brush tool for dodging and burning. Create your own brush tool presets to give your desired effect. This is my burning preset for lifting the shadows up.

How to Create a Lightroom Preset for Dodging (Makes Things Lighter – Brings Out Shadows)

The goal of this dodging preset is to bring out the details in dark shadows and lighten  other areas of the photo.  

Here’s how to do that:

Click on the brush tool.

By using the sliding bars, adjust the highlights, shadows, exposure, the flow, and feathering to your desired level.

General Settings for dodging:
Exposure:  0.5
Shadows:  20-50
Feather: 30-50
Flow: 30-40

When you’re happy with the settings, save your settings as a new preset as shown in the images below.

Saving a Preset in Lightroom for Dodging - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
Image shows how to create your own preset for dodging and burning real estate or architectural images.

Step 4. When you begin the process of dodging and burning with your brush, hold the mouse down and stroke it back and forth, in the same way you would if you were spray painting something.

For best results, hold the mouse button down, complete a stroke, and then let go.

Repeat this process until you’re happy with the result.

Step 5. After reviewing, you might want to go back and touch up the image further. I took some of the brushing away from the lights, for instance, as I didn’t want to blow them out (increase exposure) any more than they already were. You can hold the Alt or Option key when using the brush to reverse the effect.

Of course, lights are a prominent feature of all ceilings so you should pay particular attention to brushing around their glow. In my image here, I’m not so concerned with the lights as they’re not an overly prominent feature of the room. From an architectural perspective, if they were a central feature, I would make sure they were exposed correctly.

Step 6. Check that you’re happy with the improved image and export it when you’re done.

And that’s it! One of the best things about using Lightroom is how simple the brush tool is to work on selected areas in your image to increase the dark areas and decrease the light areas.

Real Estate Dodging and Burning Tips and Tricks

  • When doing any editing or retouching, it’s important that you don’t do too much. You don’t want it to look like an artificial image. Try to be subtle. The goal with any retouching and editing is to enhance the image without the viewer knowing you have done so.
  • Letting go of the mouse regularly, as opposed to holding it down constantly, ensures you can undo inadvertent strokes without having to start all over again. I learned this the hard way, so make sure you break up your strokes to save you lots of time!
  • Hold the “Alt” or “Option” key down whilst brushing to reverse the effect.
  • You can review the areas where you’ve applied the dodging and burning by ticking the box that says ‘show selected mask overlay.’ This can be found directly underneath the main image and will highlight the areas that you’ve brushed with a red glow.
Show Selected Mask Overlay Feature - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
The “Show Selected Mask Overlay” checkbox will allow you to see where you have brushed.
Show Selected Mask Overlay Example - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
The pink shows the areas I’ve dodged. This shows when you check the ”Show Selected Mask Overlay” checkbox.

The Before and After Photos

Before Photo - How to Doge and Burn in Lightroom
Before Photo
After Photo - How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom
After Photo

Should I Use Lightroom Over Photoshop?

As you can see, Adobe Lightroom is a super simple way of dodging and burning your images. I find that Lightroom is a quick and almost rough and ready kind of approach to the job, whereas Photoshop gives you more control over the editing of an image.  

Of course, there’s merit to using either platform for photo editing, but I like to use Lightroom for touching up images quickly and efficiently, as the process doesn’t take too long and I’m always happy with the results.

You’ll find that Lightroom does a pretty good job for most images, but if you’re looking for a really high-end retouching job and need to be incredibly precise with elements of your images, Photoshop will likely be the better option.


As you can see, Lightroom is an excellent way of dodging and burning for architecture and real estate photos. I find the brush tool is really simple to use and modify, and you can get creative with your editing, without needing to go into too much detail.

Lightroom gives you the ability to lighten up shadows, improve the lighting, and bring out the features that you’re looking for in any photo, which makes it a really smart and helpful piece of software for photo editors.

I’m really happy with the end result of the photos that I’ve edited using Lightroom, and I hope you find this step-by-step guide useful for professionalizing any photos for your clients.

Some of My Favorite Photography Gear

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body

Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens

Godox Flash Strobe

Further Reading:

The Ultimate Automated Backup Workflow for Photographers

Best Lens For Product Photography Recommended by a Pro Photographer

Real Estate Photography Editing Lightroom Workflow Tutorial

How To Install Pixieset Lightroom Plugin (And How To Use It)

How to Dodge and Burn in Lightroom