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Dodge & Burning – Manipulation Secrets

Dodge & Burning – Manipulation Secrets

In this chapter of the Manipulation Secrets series I will discuss Dodge&Burning and how drastically it can improve your artworks. The dodge and burn technique is also used in portrait retouching to fix local illumination “problems” or to get rid of little blemishes on the skin. In this article I will only discuss about how to use this technique on manipulations because is where the effect is more pronounced.

Learn how I created my Dodge/Burn action

Dodging & Burning is a step which you should make on the final stages of your work, when you finishing up your manipulations. It’s a very easy to use tool as long as you use “low settings”.

The reason why you would want to dodge/burn your artworks it’s because you can create more volume and make the image look so much better and a lot more artistic in my opinion. See the examples below and see before and after results. It’s a really powerful effect.

I’ve mentioned this on many of my tutorials and I’m getting sick of repeating it but it’s important. You must always “dodge and burn” non destructively, which means you don’t use the tool directly on the final product or on the original image. You must always look for a method that will easily allow you to undo or modify your work later on.

You must understand that with the amount of strokes you will make while dodging % burning, it’s impossible to use the history to undo your actions, no matter how many history states you have.

The question is, obviously, how do you do that with this tool? I’ve first seen this technique on a retouching DVD class.

Dodging & Burning non-destructively

The answer to the question above is: By using a layer filled with 50% gray and Overlay blend mode. That’s right. By filling a layer with 50% gray and changing the blend mode to Overlay you will be able to dodge and burn on that layer therefore not affecting original pixels of your image but still get the effect you want.

So, when your composition is ready, create a new layer above every other layer on your palette and go to Edit>Fill and from the Contents part select Use: 50% Gray from the drop down list. You can also access this menu using shortcuts or using the right-mouse button>Fill after you select the entire canvas first.

All that’s left to do is to rename your layer to Dodge/Burn or something like that and change the Blend mode to Overlay or Softlight. Both blend modes work the same but with Softlight you get a less intense effect.

After changing the blend mode you will notice that the gray disappears entirely and you can now see your artwork as the dodge/burn layers is not even there. That’s because of the exact 50% gray value which is neutral.

The fact that the layer becomes invisible is perfect for us because our objective is to locally enhance the lights and shadows of our scene.

Dodge & Burn settings

When your dodging and burning you must use “low settings” and generally only the Midtones Range. I usually use about 9 to 12% Exposure on portraits and human body parts and 15-20% on landscape but these values are not carved in stone. Use the same settings on both tools (the dodge and the burn tools)

Using Dodge & Burn

Now that you know how to set your brush settings (because you will use a brush to dodge and burn) you can start enhancing lights and shadows. This is very straight forward, all you do is use the Burn tool and burn all the shadows on your scene or part of your scene and then you get the Dodge tool and paint over the highlights.

Make multiple passes for a stronger effect. There are multiple examples of before and after on my tutorials. I made a small compilation below.

Dodge & Burn before/after examples

(hover the mouse over the image and wait for the new image to load)

The Police Officer – Photoshop Tutorial

Solo – Photoshop Manipulation Tutorial

Dry World – Photoshop Manipulation Tutorial

Well, that’s it with the dodge and burn. Remember to take your time and always with the visibility of the layer on and off to see the before and after. For a stronger effect try duplicating the Dodge/Burn layer and play with the opacity.

If you have any questions of suggestions please post a comment.

About Andrei Oprinca

Yep that's me :) I like Photoshop and Spotify 2 years ago I said to myself I will fill this with some useful info about me but I never had the chance to do it XDDD
  • Raphael

    Your work is really great, I am so looking forward to the last two secrets, is there any prediction of these posts?

  • IG: SilkyGFX

    can also be done using layer mask on different curve layers… great advice though

  • Olga

    thank you for sharing…can I ask you a question? Some people use technique with low opacity black and white brush for dodging and burning…what is the difference between this technics? and what is better? thank you in advance:)

  • mARCELA

    tHANK yiu!!!! EXCELLENTE WORK
    CONGRATS.