Dodging and burning offer the final, finishing touches to the process of creating a fine black-and-white photograph. These subtle manipulations allow a photographer to elevate a decent print into the sublime. A fantastic amount of control is available by delicately altering certain tonal areas and by changing local contrast within select areas of the print. The golden rule for either technique is that no modification should be noticeable in the final print.
Dodging is the technique employed to selectively lighten certain areas within the print by withholding light during enlargement, and it needs to be applied during the base exposure series. I keep a simple set of tools at hand, all consisting of various-sized cardboard circles taped to lengths of wire. The circles are cut from light but sturdy paper stock, such as a manila folder.
In addition to this standard set, I also occasionally need to make a custom tool for particular negatives. These run the gamut from simple circles to complicated shapes, cut to match a difficult tonal area within negatives. These custom tools are harder to use, requiring a delicate and active touch. Custom shapes must be cut smaller than the actual size of the area being dodged, to allow for a constant movement during the exposure. This wiggle will soften the edges of the manipulated area, disguising the dodging.
If a split-contrast method (a technique wherein two base exposures are used, one hard contrast, the other soft) is being used to print, the majority of dodging must be applied during the soft-contrast exposure, for two reasons. First, the longer duration of the soft-contrast exposure allows more freedom for manipulation; second, the softer contrast settings make it easier to hide the alterations. Dodging during the hard-contrast exposure is problem- atic, often leaving an obvious density halo. When such dodging becomes necessary (and sometimes it does), it must be done for only a fraction of the total exposure, and must be applied with a quick and delicate touch. If a single base exposure is being used, all the techniques discussed here will work, but the application times need to be modified.