Dodging and Burning without the complexity
Check out my Video on Dodging and Burning
Unfortunately, there are many ways to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop. I say unfortunately as some Photoshop experts will show you incredibly complex ways of dodging and burning using for instance: Apply Image, Curves Adjustment Layers, and the High Pass filter.
Adobe has given us two excellent tools called Dodge and Burn. They work very well, but cannot be used on a blank layer. So the Dodge and Burn tools in normal use are destructive.
I’m now going to show you two methods using these tools. The first method will be destructive using the Dodge and Burn tools as they are meant to be used. The second semi non-destructive method uses a blank layer above filled with 50% grey, and the layer blend mode set to Overlay.
The Options Bar for both Dodge and Burn
Don’t think you have to use a soft (0% hardness) round brush. There might be an occasion where are a hard brush is needed or even a textured brush. By the way, Tool Presets are history for any tool that uses a brush. We now use brush presets as of 2018 release of Photoshop.
Here you can control so many aspects of a brush. For dodging and burning this would normally be overkill – you never know though.
Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows. What areas do you want work on? Be careful though Shadows, and Highlights range have more impact. I recommend working with Midtones initially.
This is a strange one, as Adobe does not give the word exposure a definitive meaning. In my opinion, flow is the more accurate word to describe what Exposure actually does. Strength is another word I could use. I tend to use it like the flow in the Brush Tool. I start low, even as low as 5%.
Minimises clipping in the Highlights and Shadows and stops colours shifting hue. For portrait retouching, it’s a must tick, and pretty much a tick for every other type of photo as well.
If you click on this icon to make it active. When you press down with your mouse, or tablet pen – and keep it pressed – it will continue to work. A good analogy is akin to using an aerosol can. If you keep the spray button down on the can, it will keep spraying. If you keep the left mouse button pressed it will continue to spray.
Size for pressure, Very useful if you have a drawing tablet.
- Shift + (plus) and Shift – (minus) will go forwards and backwards through the Range: Highlights, Midtones, Shadows.
- If you need to set your exposure i.e. 10, 20, 30…… range, just type the first number. For example 1 for 10%, 2 for 20% and so on. Typing two numbers in quick succession like 2 then 5, will give you 25%.
- Press Alt, or Option. Whilst Alt, or Option is pressed it will swap to the opposite tool. If you are on Burn you’ll go to Dodge etc. The brush size won’t change, and the Options bar remains the same.
- Not really necessary given Shift (+ and -) can change the range. You can also use Alt/Option, Shift H, M, S, for Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows.
The Normal Destructive Method of Dodging and Burning
- Duplicate the layer with the image you intend to work on. Cmd/Ctrl J. Always duplicate a layer when you’re working destructively on the pixels.
- Set up both your Dodge and Burn Tool to 0% Hardness for the Brush – Range: Midtones – Exposure: 30% (or less, never more) – and make sure Protect Tones is ticked.
- Start in either the Dodge and Burn tool and start painting.
- If you want to temporarily swap between either tool, hold down the Alt, or Option key, and keep it pressed down whilst painting. It’s important to set up both tools first.
- If you want to change between tools to change their settings use Shift + O cycle through the tools, (unfortunately, the Saturation tool is also in this group).
In my video, for expediency, I started using Midtones, at 30% Exposure. For portrait retouching, I would normally start with the Range set to Midtones and 5% Exposure.
You should do the majority of your work using the Range set to Midtones. Use Highlights or Shadows with care be prepared to drop the exposure.
You can swap quickly between either tool by pressing down the Alt, or Option key, and with the key kept pressed, work with the opposing tool. If you need to change the tool setting use Shift + O. The letter “O” is the keyboard shortcut for the Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools.
Be aware of the angle of the light source and Dodge and Burn accordingly. Besides digital painting, dodging and burning require awareness of how light reacts with a subject. It’s not rocket science but the whole process of dodging and burning requires common sense, and a light touch.
The Semi Non-Destructive method of Dodging and Burning
- Create a blank layer above your subject layer. Ctrl/Command, Shift N. Or, Layer/New Layer
- Name this layer something like Dodge and Burn Overlay.
- Set the Mode to ‘Overlay’.
- Tick ‘Fill with Overlay-neutral colour (50% grey).
- Work on this layer with the Dodge and Burn tools.
Heads up, all the contrast Blend Modes from Overlay to Hard Mix have 50% grey as a neutral colour. In other words, 50 pct grey will be invisible.
Now you are dodging and burning on a grey layer set to Overlay all your edits will be visible.
Alt or Option-clicking on the eye symbol of the 50% grey layer will isolate the layer. Inversely Alt or Option-clicking again will bring all visible layers back into view.
Your edits will look similar to this. Here I’ve been working on a face.
What are the advantages of using the 50% grey layer?
- You can edit the layer using the brush tool with a colour of 50% grey. Using flow and opacity you can even control the edits with the brush tool.
- You can blur areas for a more diffuse effect.
- You can change the layers blend mode to Soft Light to soften the effect.
- You can adjust the layer Opacity.
- You could even use the Brush Tool on this layer, changing the colour as needed. This is not as fast as using the Dodge and Burn tools.
There’s one problem
- You cannot ‘protect tones’ as 50pct grey only has one tone!
That’s it, guys.