How to Apply Dodging and Burning in Adobe Photoshop

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  By Jordan Younce
How to Apply Dodging and Burning in Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop

is a great tool for you to play around with your images and modify them as you wish. You can either lighten or darken some parts of your images using dodging and burning tools, which employ a darkroom technique, traditionally used for modifying exposure on particular sections of a print.

Basically, these two techniques can be used for increased exposure to darken some parts of the photo (burn) or reduced light to lighten specific sections of the print (dodge). The intensity with which you paint over a print with the burn or dodge tools, determines the extent by which you darken or lighten it.

So, how do you apply dodging and burning in Adobe Photoshop?

Although it is common and easy for people to use the Dodge tool and Burn tool provided in the Property Panel, there are other methods that promise to give you greater control of what you intend to achieve. To do this, you will need to open your Adobe photo editor and upload the photo you want to dodge or burn. Create a blank area and then on your right hand side choose the blending mode to overlay.

For more control, select the opacity and the flow. Drag the opacity to around 30% and flow to around 40%. Paint over and although you don’t see anything happening, keep clicking to brighten/burn more of the image. You can enlarge the brush to give you more control as you brighten parts of the cloud more. This also makes the process a little bit faster.

To darken/dodge areas of the image, change your brush to black by clicking ‘X’ on your keyboard or use the toggle option. Start darkening parts of your image to make it more moody on top and darken the edges for harmonious effects. Once you are through with this, switch back to white brush and make it plenty big and then keep clicking at the centre to create a small sun effect when the sun is really bright.

Once done, just toggle on and off to see the difference the process has made in your photo. The idea however is for you to get the best results on your photos based on what you intend to achieve. As such, you can use this particular method to dodge and burn your images as it might seem best to you. However, this is always the easiest and best way to follow especially if you want to enjoy greater control of the process.

As mentioned earlier, there are other non-destructive techniques which you can use for dodging and burning in Photoshop. This means that even if your change your image’s pixels, it is always easy to change or undo the adjustments before completing your project. Let’s look at other non-destructive dodging and burning techniques you can apply in Photoshop while working on different types of photographs while making your workflow more flexible, faster and more robust.

Using 50 percent Neutral Grade Layer

To do this, you will need to create two brand new layers – one for dodging and one for burning – and set them together. As you create the new layers, you should select your ideal blend mode, either Soft Light or Overlay. Normally, overlay is a little bit more effective and will quickly take you to dodged/burned effect compared to Soft Light which requires more gradual buildup. You can choose either based on your preference but ensure the Fill with 50% (Overly-neutral color) box.

It is always easier to start with burning since it makes helps you brighten the highlights once your shadows are defined. To do this, choose the Burn tool and set the brush at the hardness level of 0%, around 5% Exposure and then fix your working Range to Midtones. Once this is done, you can start brushing the parts which you intend to darken within the image and bring out the definition.

Once you are through, substitute the Burn tool with the Dodge tool and fill in your highlights and other tones depending with your project. Although this method can be limiting, it is one of the commonly used among many photographers especially when working on existing shadows and highlights. You should however avoid this approach if at all you want to change the midtones and turn them into brighter highlights or deeper shadows since it will adjust the saturation and hue of the surface if you use it much.

Dodging and Burning using Curve Adjustments

To use this approach for your burn, start by creating a Curves Adjustment Layer. Choose Curves and reduce the midtones to darken your entire image. Once this is done, adjust the layer’s blend mode to luminosity thus preserving the general tones.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer to use in your dodging and then increase the midtones to brighten your image. Change the blend mode of the new layer to Luminosity and then invert the two layer masks before grouping them together. Begin with your burn layer and select the right brush hardness, flow and then brush the shadows. Do the same on your dodge layer. This approach is advantageous since the curves adjustment helps limit you on the extent at which you can dodge or burn the images.

Frequency Separation Techniques

This might be a new technique to you but you can try it. It is an amazing technique especially when doing some basic skin retouch and promises to give quality results when done right. The beauty of the techniques is that they can be combined with a dark and light layer to overlay a certain amount of white or black on top of your image instead of darkening or brightening the existing colors. This makes the process non-destructive to the initial tones.

Frequency separation techniques make it easy for photographers to correct color aspects in photographs and images without affecting detail and texture. They allow you to creatively work on your projects especially in giving the skin some touches for better results.

All these techniques can guarantee unique results but you will need to invest your time and be keen to ensure your blending is smooth and nice. You can use the techniques on different projects and but the greatest advantage with them is that they are non-destructive.

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Jordan Younce

I am a Real Estate and Landscape photography as well as a Graphic Designer based in North Carolina, USA. My passion for photography started with taking photos with a point-and-shoot and now I own a successful photography business. My goal is to help others learn the art of photography, develop their creative side and just have fun.