Last updated on February 29, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Darktable - Photo Editing

darktable dodge and burn

Dodging and burning are essentially brightening and darkening areas of a photo.

Although there is not such a darktable dodge and burn module, you can easily create a quick preset for both.

I personally use the Exposure module to do exactly this job. 

Alternatively, you can also use the new Tone Equalizer module.

In this post you will see the traditional way to dodge and burn on darktable and the smart way to do it, using parametric masks

More reading on Darktable

darktable dodge and burn - traditional and smart way to do it
darktable dodge and burn – traditional and smart way to do it

If you are just interested in the video, skip to the end of the post

darktable dodge and burn presets

I use the Exposure Module for dodge and burn.

I developed 6 prests (3 dor dodge and 3 for burn) based on the intensity of brightness/darkness (+1, +0.7, +0.3, -0.3, -0.7, -1)

I then use the drawn mask to dodge and burn where needed.

The important thing is that you also increase both mask blurring and feathering radius default values (zero) to avoid harsh borders.

My values are 100 for mask blur and 120 for feathering radius

You can download here these simple presets

Dodge & Burn Presets

Are you not sure how to install the presets?

Check out my full guide to prests and style in darktable

The traditional way to dodge and burn in darktable

Assuming you have downloaded the presets, just select the one you need, for example, dodge.

Then go on the drawn mask and select one of the shapes.

My favorite one is the circle, the brush also works very well.

The last step is to either dodge or burn part of the photo trying to create an interesting and dynamic pattern, as simple as that.

What to dodge and burn is a personal choice. Experience helps.

I usually tend to dodge 3 points in the photo creating almost a triangular figure.

A couple of quick tips about dodge and burn in darktable:

  • when selecting the shape on the drawn mask, keep the CTRL button down. In this way you will keep the shape for as long as you need, avoiding going back and forward from the mask area.
  • dodging and burning is a subtle operation. Almost unnoticeable. Feel free to increase/decrease the exposure value as much as you want but do not go overboard. 

The smart way to dodge and burn in darktable

Again select one of the presets, for example, dodge.

Select the overall area you want to dodge with either a gradient or a path in the parametric mask

Use the input luminosity slider to select only the darkest or brightest areas here and there.

This way is so much quicker and effective, however, it works mostly when the photo has already a wide tonal range.

Video with editing examples

In this video, you can see how I edit photos in both traditional and smart way.

Please note that in the video I use my old presets I developed in the now deprecated Basic Adjustments module.

In saying that, the workflow with the new presets is still the same.


If interested in how Ansel Adams was postprocessing his photo with dodging and burning technique then check out this article.

Stefano Ferro - Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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