Dodging and Burning for Post Production Using Adobe Photoshop

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  By Julian
Dodging and Burning for Post Production Using Adobe Photoshop

Today we’re going to be looking at one of the main areas in Photoshop that can bring you to the next level. Once you’ve mastered Dodging and Burning the difference in your final pieces will be significantly better.

We’ll be focusing in on Dodging for today.

If you’re good at Painting (Art), you should be good at Dodging and Burning.

So this is the piece we will be using today, and I have to give a shout out to Samantha Black Photography for the image.


This is a great practice image as it has already been retouched and the photography is excellent so try to find and image similar for practice.

So just in case you are completely unfamiliar with he concept of Dodging and Burning, the Tools are used to increase depth.

When you Dodge something you are making it lighter, you can work with the Highlights Mid-tones and the Shadows individuality, Burning is the same but the opposite, exact same process but and the name intends you are Burning areas, in other words darkening them.

There are actual Dodging and Burning Tools, but I want to show you this Technique. There’re a few ways to do this, but I think this one is a great technique that is very simply to use. To be honest, they are all pretty simple to use and it all really comes down to a persons imagination and knowing when they have it at the right point, so a little fore sight can help a great deal.

Step 1.

Press (B) to active your Brush Tool and Follow along with these settings.

Choose a soft brush and set your opacity to 5-10%.

Then open up a New Layer, as you can see indicated on the left in the image below.


You must now set your Blend Mode to Soft Light.

In the Layers panel where it says Normal, click there and that will give you access to lots of Blend Modes, inside you will see Soft Light, that is the one that you’ll want to click on.


db4 Ok, so before I show you this I want to mention just once thing… subtlety is KEY

If at the end you think that maybe you have gone a little too far, a quick fix that I would do is to drop the opacity of the layer and maybe add a tiny but of Gaussian blur and erasing, but anyway…

To do this you take your brush and paint the white directly over the light areas of the face, where the light is highlighted. Those areas on the model would be the side of the fore head, checks etc.

Work on all of those areas of the model until you have covered them all.

Quick Tip: You can increase and decrease your brush size as you go along by pressing the bracket keys [ and ], also pressing the space bar will allow you to click and drag to navigate around your image during editing.


Another tip would be to follow the shape of the contours, as if you where painting on an actual 3D Model.

Don’t worry too much about not being able to paint on the exact lines because I am going to be showing you now how to correct this, well I say correct, but we haven’t made any mistakes.

So check it out, if you double click on our Layer with the Soft Light Blend mode, you will see a panel appear.


In that panel, as I have indicated above, you will see the Blend area at the bottom.

On the bottom slider, hold Shift and Alt, then click on the front half of the Black slider, this will split it in half and you will be able to move the half slider back and forth.

Keep an eye on your image and move the slider to the right, you will start to see the areas painted in white fade into the darker areas, giving it a more natural look.

Use your own artistic judgement on this, it is completely up to what you think is correct and what you feel most happy with.

You can also do the same with the slider above, going from the opposite side using the White Slider, but this will be very very slight.


Next you will need to do is choose the Brush Tool (Shortcut B). Hold Alt (Opt on the Mac) and an eye dropper will appear, you’ll want to click on an area that has shadow in it, like I have shown before, which will now give you that colour to use with your Brush.

I always choose the darkest colour of the shadow.


So now that you have your colour, create a new layer and where you see below, highlighted in red (saying Normal), click on that and a drop down will appear.


For this, you’ll want to choose Soft light. If you have checked out the first Photoshop tutorial then you will be familiar with this process.


For the settings,  you will want to select a soft Brush with the opacity dropped to around 25%


Now you’re set to go.

Start to brush over all of the shadow areas, as well as places like under the cheeks and chin. I also concentrate on the hair.

This can take a long time to do properly.

You can do a quick fly over, but in reality you should take your time. I’ve heard estimates of up to an hour and a half which seems fair enough, but I would say work on it until you feel happy with the results. There are only so many shadow areas to work on, so go back and forth, burning and erasing. You can check the differences of your changes by clicking the eye on the layer, as highlighted below.



As you work you can use the bracket keys [ and ] to increase or decrease your brush size. Try to match the brush size with the size of the shadow that you are working on.

Next, to keep the dark from bleeding into your highlighted (dodged) areas, double click on the layer that we’ve been working on.


You will see at the bottom, there is a slide bar called Underlying Layer.

On the White side, click on the mark highlighted below. Holding Alt and clicking on the inside half, you will be able to split that marker and move it over to the left side which will decrease the shadows bleeding into your dodged areas.


I didn’t have to do too much with this slider, but you may have to. I’ll leave it to your judgement and what makes you feel good.

If you think you have gone overboard with all of this Dodging and Burning, you can go to your Layers and drop the opacity some.

I’m going to show you one more technique that I also use. I used to use this one all the time, but I prefer the latter to be honest, because you can match the colour. In saying that, this technique that I’m going to show you is a very good one and will work like a treat, so for knowledge purposes I’ll include it. Who knows you may prefer it over the others.

To start, create a new layer, then click on Edit – Fill (Shift F5) and fill with 50% Gray


Then, change your blend mode to Overlay (same process as you did when you changed ‘Normal’ to ‘Soft light’)


Open up your Dodge and Burn Tool shown highlighted below.


Using the same principles as when you used the Brush Tool, I  would suggest you drop your Exposure down to around 25% using a soft brush. It works just the same as the Brush Tool in practice.

Start with the Dodge Tool and do the same as you did previously, simply painting over the areas that can be highlighted.


Like before, you can drop the layer opacity in the Layers panel to lessen the effect if the image looks far too over blown.

For the Burning you do the exact same, but do it on a brand new layer.


That was just a quick overview of Dodging and Burning in Photoshop. If you put this into practice you will start to get really good and your results will skyrocket.

Good luck with your Dodging and Burning take your time and get those results!

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Graduated from college in 2002 with a degree in Art & Design, I started exploring my way in Graphic Design and Professional Post Production. Full-time freelancer since 2011.

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