Tuesday Tutorial – Dodge & Burn

Dodging & Burning in Photoshop
by Jeff Greene /



This is the first in a series of Tuesday Tutorials where I will offer a useful tip, trick, or technique that will enhance your images. 


This week I will cover dodging and burning in Photoshop which enables the darkening and lightening of selected portions of an image. I don't use the Dodge & Burn Tool provided by Photoshop and I never, ever do anything to my image that directly affects the pixels on the Background layer. My basic workflow is done on separate adjustment layers for tonal and color corrections, cloning, and dodging and burning.  I then save this un-sized, un-cropped and un-sharpened file as the master file. This allows for maximum versatility to fine tune the image in the future by reopening each layer and applying minute corrections until perfected.


Again, I don’t use the Dodge and Burn tools that Photoshop provides because they only work on pixels directly. They also do not offer enough control and can be quite overpowering.  The following method utilizes a new layer with its blending mode set to Overlay and, using the Brush tool at 10% opacity, painting with black or white. This will darken and lighten specific portions of the image when the brush is applied in smooth strokes.


Here’s how it’s done.


1. At the bottom of the layers palette, click on the “Create a new layer” button while holding down the ALT key (OPT on the Mac).  This brings up a dialog box so we can make some changes to the layer’s properties.



2. In the dialog box we need to do two things. First, change the Mode to Overlay and, second, check the box below that reads “Fill with Overlay neutral color (50% gray)”.  If you wish to name the layer, then you can type it into the “Name” window.  I usually just call it “Dodge & Burn".



3. Click “OK” and a new layer filled with gray should appear at the top of your layers palette.



4. Select the Brush tool. In the tool options bar be sure the brush edges are at 0% Hardness, Mode is Normal and change the Opacity to 10%.



5. Make the Foreground / Background their default colors (black and white) by clicking on the small black and white icon beneath the squares.


6. To darken, or “burn” selected areas, make the Foreground color black and paint those areas that need darkening with smooth strokes. Keeping the mouse button pressed will only darken the image by 10%; regardless of how many strokes are made over the same area. To apply another 10% darkening, re-click and hold the mouse painting over the same area again.  You can gradually build up the effect giving the image a very natural look.



7. To lighten or “dodge” the image simply switch the Foreground color to white and repeat the process.  Remember, it’s best to use smooth strokes as opposed to a bunch of individual clicks.   An important note: this process only works on portions of the image that contain mid-tone values.  It has no affect on dark shadows and bright highlights.



8. Finally, to see the dramatic “before” and “after” versions, simply click the visibility or “eye” icon to the left of the dodge & burn layer which effectively turns the layer “on” and “off”.  Isn’t that cool!?



That’s it… I apply this technique to literally every image I enhance in my workflow process. Maybe it’s just a slight darkening of the corners to draw the viewers’ eye to the center of interest in the print, or perhaps a more elaborate application when I need to open up some shadow detail and tone down brighter areas.  In every case, it vastly improves the image and it will prove to be an invaluable tool in your arsenal of Photoshop weapons.


Tomorrow: Wednesday Website - I'll be highlighting a cool and useful sight for photographers...


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