Understanding Burn & Dodge and 4 ways to do it

In this video we’re going to look at
4 ways to burn and dodge in Photoshop. Now arguably, it’s one of the most
valuable tools in Photoshop, as a matter of fact, I’m going to change that… it is
THE MOST important tool in Photoshop, in my opinion. Burning and dodging refers to
darkening or lightening areas of your image selectively. Now this technique can
be used to enhance your images by creating more three dimensionality and
helping guide your viewers eye around the photograph. Now the technique itself
derives from the days of film and darkroom printing, it’s useful for any
genre of photography and as with many photoshop tools there are multiple
methods to burn and dodge. Now I’m going to briefly look at the different ways to
burn and dodge in Photoshop and when to use which method but this is something
we cover in far more depth on how to do this in our video tutorials on Karl
Taylor Education. So, let’s take a look at what burn and dodge actually means. So
here on screen, you can see two images, one of the images is before any
Photoshop work and the other image is after burn and dodge and the important
thing to point out with this image is that there is no Photoshop or comping or
cloning or any other work taking place here, this is the RAW camera file and
then this is the burn and dodged result. But you can see how much additional
impact burning and dodging makes to the final image. So whilst we’re not really
changing anything significantly within the image, we’re only changing tonal
values, lightening and darkening selective areas of the image to help
guide the eye but the impact from doing this is profound. Now in this shot of
Ophelia, you can see how rather than using
techniques to retouch skin and blemishes, the makeup was actually pretty much
flawless. Most of the techniques applied to the retouch here are actually burning
and dodging but again you can see the significant impact that those burning
and dodging techniques make to the image. Now in this example in this fashion
image you can see how important burning and dodging actually becomes to the
clothes themselves, because quite often with fashion photography, clothes will
have creases, dents and imprints in them that create shadows and highlights and
we use the technique of burning and dodging to rebalance the shot remove
those highlights or remove those shadows to even things out and in this example
you can see how effective that is. So what was burning and dodging in the
darkroom? Well the term burning and dodging refers to that darkroom
technique used in the printing process for controlling the exposure of a
selected area of the image. Nowadays we use a very similar technique in
Photoshop but we have far greater precision with it in Photoshop than we
did in the darkroom. Burning refers to the process used to darken certain areas
of the image when printing from negatives, this was done by allowing more
light to reach a particular area and this could be done by holding a sheet of
cardboard with a hole in it over the area of the print and it would be
positioned to let light through that hole to darken that particular area.
Dodging does the opposite of burning, it lightens certain areas of an image and
we do this in the darkroom by holding a piece of card or paper usually attached
to a thin handle and then light would be blocked from hitting a certain area of
the print and therefore brighten that part of the picture. Now in darkroom
printing that was printing from a negative image if we were printing from
a positive you’d use the burning and dodging techniques the opposite way
round. Now when do we use burn and dodge? Well, when we take a photo we essentially
create a 2D image, but in order for that image to be
aesthetically pleasing it’s important that we make it look as
three-dimensional as possible. Now we can do this by adjusting brightness and
contrast in an image, however, using the brightness and contrast adjustments in
Photoshop alone can result in a very artificial looking image, this is why
burning and dodging is so useful. These techniques allow us to make subtle yet
effective changes that can change the shape and form of an image
they almost change the lighting within the image. Let’s take a look at how
effective that can be with this graphic. The images shown here
are exactly the same the only difference is that the image on the right has had
burning and dodging applied to it creating a three-dimensional feel to
what is in fact originally a 2-dimensional image now there are still
both two-dimensional images but one of them has a very much more 3-dimensional
appearance to it. Now you can see exactly how I achieved this in my burning and
dodging Photoshop class but these techniques can be used on any image and
as you can see are particularly useful when wanting to increase three
dimensionality. Now using the technique of lightening and darkening selected
parts of an image, it’s also possible to guide the viewers eye through the image
in the direction you want to. Often retouching in Photoshop we’re retouching
to remove blemishes such as pimples but this doesn’t always require the clone or
the healing brush tools, in actual fact many imperfections such as this can
instead be fixed or repaired with burning and dodging. Now depending on
your skill level there are different ways to burn and dodge in Photoshop each
of these have their own advantages and disadvantages and you’ll have to
experiment with each one to find out which works best for you. Here’s another
great example where I’ve shot these Beats Headphones and here you can see
the RAW image but then you can see how I smooth the tones out in certain areas of
the product to create a more pleasing image. So here are four ways you can burn and
dodge in Photoshop. The simple method is the burning and dodging tools that are
available in the tools menu on the left hand side of Photoshop. To use these
tools simply select the tool and then set the brush value to the range that
you want to use whether it’s on the mid-tones the shadows or the highlights
and select the percentage intensity of the tool itself.
Once you’ve set these, you simply brush over the area you want to lighten or
darken, now this is a useful technique for those new to Photoshop because it’s
simple and it’s easy to understand, however, I don’t tend to use the burn and
dodge tools themselves because there are more accurate and effective ways of
burning and dodging. One of the disadvantages of actually using the
Photoshop burn and dodge tools method is that it’s a destructive method of
editing. To edit images non-destructively make sure you work on a new or duplicate
layer this will allow you to go back and alter the changes to an extent as well.
Now option 2 is using burn and dodging with curves adjustment layers.
Now this is my preferred method of burning and dodging as it allows for
much greater precision than the burn and dodge tools and it’s also
non-destructive because you’re working on adjustment layers rather than the
actual image, however, it does require a knowledge of using layers and masks. This
image requires creating two new curve adjustment layers, one lighter and one
darker, and then applying a mask to each of those adjustment layers. After
inverting the masks, the brush tool can be used to reveal the lightened curved
or the darkened curve adjustment through the layer into the image.
This method is clearly demonstrated in the Burning & Dodging Photoshop class
on KarlTaylorEducation.com. One of the advantages of this method is that you
can make an action to create the burn and dodge layers, or you can save
yourself even more time and download the actions from
our website. It’s also a highly precise method of retouching as not only can you
select the brush settings you can also change the opacity settings of the layer,
of the adjustment layer after, or even adjust the intensity of the curve once
you’ve created it. The 3rd method of burning and dodging is using selections,
now this method allows you to make adjustments to very precise areas of an
image using a selection tool, you simply select the area of the image that you
want to edit and you create a new adjustment layer, a new curves
adjustment layer, and this you can then change the amount of the curve according
to the effect you want to achieve so for example either brighter or darker by
pulling on the curve. Now as with the previous method you can also control the
opacity of the layer afterwards and it’s a non-destructive method. The 4th
method is soft light blend mode. This method involves creating a new layer and
selecting either soft light or overlay as the blend mode. Now to do this, go to
layer, new layer, and in the new layer dialog box select either soft light or
overlay blend mode. Once the new layer is created using the brush tool in either
white or black you can paint over the area that you want to burn or dodge.
Again I don’t tend to use this method as I find it much slower than dodging and
burning using curves adjustment layers. Now although Photoshop is the most
popular choice of software for adjustments like burning and dodging you
can also achieve similar results using Lightroom’s adjustment brush by painting
over areas of the image that you want to change you can then adjust the exposure,
contrast, highlight, shadows, white and black levels. Effectively
burning and dodging depending on which one you change. Now regardless of whether
you’re working in Lightroom or Photoshop using selections or curves, burn and
dodge are the most important techniques for any type of photography retouching
and I hope this video has helped you understand a little bit more about this
full technique and remember you can see exactly how to do this in great detail
in our in-depth Photoshop classes on KarlTaylorEducation.com you

20 Replies to “Understanding Burn & Dodge and 4 ways to do it”

  1. Thanks. When I use layers and want to use the dodge and burn tools they don't work on layers. Am I doing something wrong or is that the way it is? Also: I like the message on your T-shirt. I am a space enthusiast.

  2. An alternative to using curves is to create two adjustment layers with black masks and set the blending modes to screen for dodging and multiply for burning. It is common that to much dodging and burning creates difference in hues and saturations to fix that clip a hue and saturation layer to the dodge and burn layers.

  3. Layer mask is IMHO the most useful feature of anything. As it is core feature to allow these easy non-destructive adjustments using simple tools like brush.

    Since Photoshop gained support for layers, it has been the #1 feature ever to be used.
    And this is why Lightroom etc never offer capabilities for creativity when they do not support layers, even at basic level.

  4. If you did not have the before and after side by side, no Client would ever know that the image needs a "burn and dodge". It is more to please yourself than the Client. Great explanation. Thanks,

  5. One of the best retouch vids on the internet. To truly compare both images before and after is priceless. Thank you for your time Karl. D and B can be also done in a very nice and fast way in Lightroom with luminosity mask. But you still need to come to PS for the other things…

  6. I've been using the curves method for over ten years and you're right Karl … it's the most efficient way to dodge & burn.
    Where on the moon did you get that T-shirt ? I must have one 🙂

  7. I tend to use softlight layer. How is curves faster, since you have to set the curves, you then have to mask, and then remove the mask where need. Seems to me to be a touch slower as there is an extra step. But essentially, much of a muchness.

  8. In the first image the subjects index finger moves between before and after. Was there something happening there or is it an optical illusion of the lightening of shadows on the finger.

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