How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

Dodging and burning are techniques that were once used extensively in the photographic darkroom to improve the appearance of photographs, sometimes quite dramatically. The term Dodging refers to lightening an area of the image whilst Burning is darkening. These techniques have now made their way through to image editing tools such as Photoshop, which even includes a dodge and burn brush.

Unfortunately the Photoshop dodge and burn brushes are what we call destructive in that they work on the image directly and therefore can’t be adjusted or removed later. This tutorial will introduce you to an alternative approach to dodging and burning that is non-destructive.

Non-destructive Photoshop Dodge and Burn

This technique uses layers and blending modes. If you don’t understand how it is working, don’t worry, you only need to know how to use it. The steps are:

  1. Open the image you want to dodge and burn in Photoshop.
  2. Add a new layer by selecting “Layer | New | Layer…” from the menu. This will cause the New layer dialog box to be displayed.
  3. Call this new layer “Dodge” and in the “Mode:” drop down list select “Overlay”. When you do this the checkbox directly below the Mode drop down will become enabled and should be selected. You can see an example below.
    Creating the Dodge layer for Dodging in Photoshop

    Creating the Dodge layer for Dodging in Photoshop

  4. You can now click the “OK” button to create a new layer which will be filled with grey. You should see the new layer added to the Layers window similar to the screen shot shown below.
    The new Dodge layer in the Photoshop Layers window

    The new Dodge layer in the Photoshop Layers window

  5. You can now duplicate the Dodge layer by clicking on it and pressing Ctrl + J on the keyboard (Command + J on a Mac). When the new layer appears in the Layers Window rename this to “Burn”. You can see an example below.
    Photoshop Layers Window showing the Dodge and Burn Layers

    Photoshop Layers Window showing the Dodge and Burn Layers

  6. Now select the paintbrush tool and set the colour to white. It’s also helpful to set the brush to have a soft edge and the opacity to about 12%. These settings help you to blend the adjustment you will make. You can see some typical settings in the following screen shot.
    Photoshop Toolbar showing paintbrush settings used for Dodging and Burning

    Photoshop Toolbar showing paintbrush settings used for Dodging and Burning

    Paintbrush settings in the Photoshop Brush dialog

    Paintbrush settings

  7. Now select the Dodge layer by clicking on it. Once selected you can start to paint on the image in the areas that you would like to lighten. As you paint you should notice these areas become lighter with each brush stroke. If you find a single brush stoke is making the image too light, reduce the brush opacity. It’s quite helpful to use a low opacity and then build up the effect with multiple brush strokes.
  8. Once you have lightened all the areas you want to switch the colour to black. You can now paint onto the Burn layer in the areas that you want to darken.


Get Essential Adobe Photoshop CC 3rd Edition

The fastest way to learn Adobe Photoshop CC.

30 day, no questions money back guarantee

Buy now or learn more...

Other Photohop Dodge and Burn Tips

Here are a few more tips that might help you:

  • If you find the effect is too strong you can adjust the opacity setting of the layer to control this.
  • Take a moment to experiment with other blending modes. Overlay offers a good starting point but don’t overlook modes such as Soft Light.
  • If you find you can see the brush strokes despite using a soft edge brush you can apply a blur to the layer. This can help soften the edges even further and blend the effect.

More Photoshop Tutorials

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

Book Offer


Get your copy of "6 Steps to Shooting Beautiful Landscapes"  by subscribing to Lenscraft in Focus, my free monthly newsletter.

Follow the advice in this deceptively simple book to significantly improve your landscape photography. Organised into 6 simple lessons, this valuable and detailed guide provides information that’s often overlooked. In fact, lesson 3 is so obvious that most photographers ignore it completely.

If you want to improve your Landscape Photography fast, follow this book.


How to Get Your Book

  • Please enter your details using the form on the right. I will then email you to confirm that you have entered your email correctly.
  • Follow the instructions in my confirmation email.
  • After that, I’ll send you a link to download your free book in the PDF in ePub formats.

My Promise to You: I will never share or SPAM your email.

6 Steps To Shooting Beautiful Landscapes Cover


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Please Share

Please share this post with fellow photographers!