Posted by: Bill Shaner | April 19, 2009

Dodge and Burn – Part II

In Part 1 I covered what Dodging and Burning gets you and in Part II I’m really getting into the technique for doing it in Photoshop.Before I go much further however let me point out that my example is Photoshop Elements 6 based. The cool thing about this technique however  is that it really can be done on almost any current version of photoshop. I tried on my old version of Elements 4 and an even older version of Photoshop 5.5 and it worked for all of them.

Okay lets start! At a high level what we are doing is creating the soft light mode and bascially make it an  adjustment layer of 50% gray and then using a brush tool to lighten or darken those areas by adding or removing to that mask. It sounds complicated but trust me it’s not!

Start by opening up your image. If you work in raw make those changes and if you want to make any changes to your “levels” feel free to do so before dodging and burning. We’re now ready to dodge and burn!

I start by looking a bit at the image and determining what I may want to do. In this case the right side of this image is a little on the dark side so I am going to want to “dodge” it in along with some of the leaves on the left side and I’ll probably touch up the water and stone in the foreground as well.

From here I need to create my new layer above the background. That’s the great thing about this technique as compared to the dodge and burn tool in photoshop. You are modifying an adjustment layer so any changes you are making will not affect the original image.

To create this new layer I can do one of two things… I can use the (PC) keyboard command of Ctrl+Shift+N to create the new layer (Mac = Shift+Command+N). If you want to do this via the menus on screen just go the the Layer’s menu and select New then Layer…

You should get a dialog box which is important since you want to select a few things which you may normally not choose when you normally create a new layer!

You are going to want to click on the drop down for “Mode” first and then select “Soft Light”.

You can also select “Overlay” and will get the same results. The difference is that the “Overlay” is a little more aggresive in my opinion. Feel free to play with either however and make your own choice.

The only other thing you need to change on this dialog box is to check the “Fill with Soft-Light-neurtral color (50% Gray)

So now if you look at your layers palate you will see you have your new layer on top of your background image.

What you need to do now is make sure you are on “Layer 1”. You can change the name if you like but it isn’t necessary.

We’re on the home stretch to beginning to dodge and burn now! All you have to do at this point is make sure you have a brush selected and that you are using white or black on your color palate.

At this point let me tell you the choice you have with the two colors. It’s really pretty simple at least in my mind. I select white if I want to add more light! Meaning if I want to “burn” or put more light in dark areas I want to use the white choice.  If I have an area that is too light and want to darken it up and use the black color.

You may ask the question what happens if you used some other color then white or black. I’ll be honest and tell you that I really don’t notice a lot of difference. If you picked a darker color it appears to do the same as black but just not as much. The opposite for a lighter color.  I just go for white and black and everything seems to work out just fine!

The last thing you have to do before you start modifying the 50% gray palate is to make sure your brush is set up. There are two things you will want to do. Select a “soft” brush, meaning one that doesn’t have a hard edge and then set the opacity of that brush.

The opacity setting in my mind is the part that is the hardest to determine. My suggestion is to stay between 7% and no more then 30% opacity. I ususally stick around the 15% area since I can just paint some more if I need more.

So now I am ready to dodge and burn!! You will notice that I didn’t talk about the size of the brush! The reason for that is I think it is really up to you. For most of my images I’m using a huge brush in the 300 pixel category. I do use smaller ones and tend to adjust. If you don’t know the keyboard command for changing brush size it is real easy! Just use the left and right bracket keys. They look like this [ to decrease and the ] to increase. They’re right above the enter key on most keyboards.

All you really need to do at this point is paint over the areas you want to dodge or burn. Remember that “White means light” so in dark areas you just paint white on the “Layers 1” layer. If you went a little far with what you painted you have any number of options. You can undo (ctrl+z), you can paint the opposite color (black if you were paining white and vice versa), or if you really mess up just delete the adjustment layer (Layer 1) you created and start again!

And that’s about it! Pretty simple really! If you have questions don’t hesitate to post a comment and ask.

Click here if you are interested in reading Dodge and Burn – Part I


  1. […] Part II I will get to the actual technique in […]

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