The Best Way to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

Photographers the world over recognise the power of Dodging and Burning. This long-established technique from the days of the darkroom can transform a boring photograph into a masterpiece. Photoshop took this technique and developed the Dodge and Burn tools. These are useful tools but suffer from a big flaw, they are destructive. In this video I demonstrate an easy to use alternative. This non-destructive technique is the best way to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop.

The transcript of the video appears below the video.


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Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Robin Whalley.

And welcome to Lenscraft.

Today I want to discuss dodging and burning. In a moment I’m going to demonstrate a useful technique you can use to dodge and burn in Photoshop. But first, let’s talk about what dodging and burning is.

Dodging and Burning comes from techniques used in the darkroom. When we made a print from a negative we would expose photographic paper by passing light through it. Where the negative was dark it would stop light from passing and exposing the paper. Where the negative was light more light would pass through to expose the paper. The more the paper was exposed to light, the darker that area would become when it was developed. This is what turns a film negative into a positive print.

When we dodged an area, we reduce the light reaching the photographic paper. This caused that area to become lighter.

When we burned an area, we increased the amount of light reaching the paper, causing it to become darker.

Much of Photoshop is based on darkroom techniques, including the Dodge & Burn tools.

The problem with the dodge and burn tools though are that they are destructive. You apply them directly to an image which prevents you from making changes later. Today, I want to introduce you to a powerful alternative to these tools using layers and blending modes.

We’re going to use this black and white image as an example.

Currently its’ a little flat and boring but we can enhance it by dodging and burning.

I’m going to start by creating a new layer from the Layer menu.

I’m going to call this layer Dodge.

Also, I’m going to change the blending mode to Overlay.

Then select to fill the new layer with neutral grey.

You can see the new layer has been added in the layers window.

I’m now going to duplicate this layer and rename the copy layer Burn.

Next, I select the Brush tool which we will use to paint onto the Dodge and Burn layers.

Be sure to set up your brush to have a soft edge and use an opacity of between 10-20 to start with.

Using a soft edge will help to blend the adjustments you make with the rest of the image.

The low Opacity setting forces you to use multiple brush strokes. This builds up the effect more gradually and helping to blend the adjustments.

It’s a good idea to reset your foreground and background paint colours to black and white by pressing D on your keyboard.

I’m going to start by painting white onto the Dodge Layer.

Currently I have black as the foreground and white as the background. I can switch between the two by pressing X on the keyboard.

As I paint, you will notice the areas I paint over become lighter.

Now I’m can switch to painting with black by pressing X on the keyboard.

This time I’m going to paint onto the Burn layer to darken areas.

Because we painted onto layers, we can adjust the Opacity to vary the strength of the effect.

We can also change the blending mode for a different effect.

We can even turn the layers off and on.

Comparing the starting image, you can see the dodging and burning has made a significant improvement.

I hope you find this technique useful.

I’m Robin Whalley and you’ve been watching Lenscraft.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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