Photo Retouching with Dodge/Burn

The Dodge tool and the Burn tool lighten or darken areas of the image. These tools are based on a traditional darkroom technique for regulating exposure on specific areas of a print. Photographers hold back light to lighten an area on the print (dodging) or increase the exposure to darken areas on a print (burning).

As useful as the Dodge and Burn tools are, however, they both suffer from a serious problem. Both of them cause permanent damage to your image, and this is never a good thing. The best way to work in Photoshop is to keep your original pixel information intact so you always have the original photo to fall back on. This is often referred to as working “non-destructively” in Photoshop, and it’s the way you should be working whenever and wherever possible.

There are a few ways to do dodging and burning.  I will describe three ways to do this.

 

Option 1 – Levels

For dodging and burning, you use one layer for dodging and another for burning with layer masks.

To setup layers to for the dodging and burning you will need to do the following:

1.     Create a new LEVELS adjustment layer.  You can do this by selecting it from the icon in the layers menu, or you can click Layers in the top pane, go down to New Adjustment Layer, click on LEVELS and click OK.

2.     Its good practice to name your layers, so double click directly on the name of the layer you just created and rename it to Dodge.

3.     In the Blending Mode drop down box on the Layers panel, choose Screen.  This makes the whole image over exposed.

4.     Now we need to fill the layer with black – Make sure the layer mask is highlighted, then, in the top menu bar go to Edit, then fill, Use: Black and then click OK.  This turns the layer black and hides everything.

Now we have to repeat doing the Burn layer

Again, create a new LEVELS adjustment layer, rename it to Burn.  In the blending mode drop down box on the Layers panel, choose Multiply.  Now we need to fill the layer with black – Make sure the layer mask is highlighted, then,  in the top menu bar go to Edit, then fill, Use: Black and then click OK.

Select the Brush tool by selecting it on the Tools panel or by pressing B on your keyboard. Be sure to use a soft rounded brush edge, with 0% hardness.

At the top of the screen, make sure the Brush Mode: is normal, and the Opacity is between 5-15%.  You want to keep a lower opacity so that you can make several small passes instead of one large pass.  Its best to work up to what you need done.

Reset the brush colors in the color box to their defaults which is black foreground and white background by pressing D on the keyboard or by clicking on the smaller boxes above the color box.  You can now press X on the keyboard to switch back and forth from black to white and back again.

Now we are ready to dodge and burn!

Click on your dodge layer, and make sure it is highlighted.  With the paintbrush, make sure the foreground color on the color box is white, and start painting where you need to lighten your image.  If you paint to much you can always press X on the keyboard and paint with black to “erase” what you have done (you will need to change the opacity to 100% on the brush pallet to completely erase an area, but don’t forget to lower it again when you want to “add” light or dark to the image).

You can then click on your Burn layer and do the same as above to darken where you need in your image.

It is important to have your opacity for the brush low, so that you can build up your dodging and burning using more than one pass as it makes it more realistic.  Below is an example of how your layers should look:

Photo Retouching with Dodge and Burn 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Option 2 – 50% Blending Mode

Click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette or go to the top menu and click Layer, New, New layer. And click OK

Rename the layer to Dodge/Burn by double clicking on the layer name.

Now we need to change the Layer Blending mode from Normal to Overlay in the layers menu drop down box.

Now we need to fill the Dodge/Burn layer with 50% Gray.  Go to Edit at the top menu and click fill, use: 50% Gray from the drop down menu and click OK.

We’re going to lighten and darken different areas of the image simply by painting over them with either black or white. Areas we paint over with white will be lightened, while areas we paint over with black will be darkened.

Select the Brush tool by selecting it on the Tools panel or by pressing B on your keyboard. Be sure to use a fluffy brush edge, with 0% hardness.

At the top of the screen, make sure the Brush Mode: is normal, and the Opacity is between 5-15%. You want to keep a lower opacity so that you can make several small passes instead of one large pass.  Its best to work up to what you need done.

Reset the brush colors in the color box to their defaults which is black foreground and white background by pressing D or by clicking on the smaller boxes above the color box.  You can now press X to switch back and forth from black to white and back again.

Set the foreground color to white and start painting on the areas of the image you want to lighten.  You can then press X to make the foreground color black. With your foreground color now set to black, paint over any areas in the photo that need to be darkened.

Photo Retouching with Dodge and Burn 2

 

Option 3 – Using Curves

  1. We need to make two Curves Adjustment layer.
  2. Create a new Curves adjustment layer. You can do this by selecting it from the icon in the layers menu, or you can click Layers in the top pane, go down to New Adjustment Layer. Click CURVES and click OK.
  3. Pull the Curve up slightly to brighten the midtones, Rename this layer “Dodge” and then fill the layer mask with black to hide everything.
  4. Create a new Curves adjustment layer. You can do this by selecting it from the icon in the layers menu, or you can click Layers in the top pane, go down to New Adjustment Layer. Click CURVES and click OK.
  5. Name Curves Adjustment layer “Burn”, pull the Curve down to darken the midtones and then fill the layer mask with black to hide everything.
  6. Select the Brush tool by selecting it on the Tools panel or by pressing B on your keyboard. Be sure to use a soft rounded brush edge, with 0% hardness.

At the top of the screen, make sure the Brush Mode: is normal, and the Opacity is between 5-15%.

Reset the brush colors in the color box to their defaults which is black foreground and white background by pressing D on the keyboard or by clicking on the smaller boxes above the color box. You can now press X on the keyboard to switch back and forth from black to white and back again.

Now we are ready to dodge and burn!

Click on your dodge layer, and make sure it is highlighted. With the paintbrush make sure the foreground color on the color box is white and start painting where you need to lighten your image. If you paint to much you can always press X on the keyboard and paint with black to “erase” what you have done (you will need to change the opacity to 100% on the brush pallet to completely erase an area, but don’t forget to lower it again when you want to “add” light or dark to the image).

You can then click on your Burn layer and do the same as above to darken where you need in your image.

 

Photo Retouching with Dodge and Burn 3

 

All three options give you essentially the same thing.  It all depends on what you are comfortable using.  Just keep in mind that when you are using dodging and burning, less is always more.  Always make sure to zoom in and out when working so you have different perspectives on what your picture is starting to look like.

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